Plastics Issues

Microplastics are at alarming levels in the world’s lakes and rivers, and they pose potential physical and toxicological risks to organisms.


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April 25, 2024 – the Province of Ontario announced they are funding an innovative microplastic capture project in Thunder Bay: reinvesting environmental penalties paid by polluters to support a local environmental project to keep plastic pollution out of local waterways and Lake Superior. Currently, over 70,000 pounds of plastic debris end up in Lake Superior annually. Read the media notice from the Province.

March 18, 2024 – Waterloo scientists discover method to remove 94 percent of microplastics from our water (Water Canada)

February 28, 2024 – Microplastics in semi-remote Ontario lakes: a recent study out of IISD – ELA identifies atmospheric deposition as a primary source for microplastic contamination in the sediment and water of remote lakes, even those with little or no human activity. The study provides evidence of atmospheric cycling as an important component of the plastic cycle; transporting particles away from their source.

December 2023 – It’s About Time: The time for a Great lakes microplastics risk management strategy is now (Water Canada). Recent study analysis by the Rochman Lab at the University of Toronto and the IISD Experimental Lakes Area showed that “nearly 90 per cent of the water samples collected from the Great Lakes basin contain microplastic concentrations surpassing the lowest risk threshold… [and about] 20 per cent … exceed the highest risk threshold.

As reported by Georgian Bay Forever, a 2022 study by UK researchers “contributes to the evidence that plastic particles have not just pervaded throughout the environment, but are pervading our bodies too,” showing there were microplastics in blood.

See a related article here: and the original study:

In March 2015 the Canadian House of Commons voted unanimously in favour of a motion to list microbeads as a toxic substance under the Environmental Protection Act, but the beads are not yet banned in this country. There are many other sources of microplastics in our waters, too, which include:

  • rope
  • fishing nets
  • floats
  • packaging
  • cigarette filters
  • storm drains and street litter
  • plastic sheeting or tubing
  • plastics production or other industrial sources.

Read the original CBC report on Great Lakes plastics research here.

Bill 228 – Keeping Polystyrene Out of Ontario’s Lakes and Rivers Act, 2021, was passed at third reading with the support of all parties on May 13, 2021.

In March 2021, FOCA appeared before the Standing Committee on Regulations and Private Bills to speak in support of Bill 228, alongside the Georgian Bay Association and Georgian Bay Forever. Bill 228 was a private member’s bill brought forward by Parry Sound Muskoka MPP Norm Miller designed to address plastic pollution caused by foam dock floatation litter.

April 2021 – FOCA is quoted in this article about Bill 228 (Cottage Life)

March 26, 2021 – MPP Miller’s private members bill aiming to reduce dock foam ordered for third reading (MyMuskokaNow)

March 25th, 2021 – Federation of Ontario Cottagers’ Associations Backing Bill Banning Styrofoam From New Docks (MyBancroftNow)

May 12, 2021 – Regulatory Actions to Plastic Pollution in Canada closer with addition of “Plastic Manufactured Items” to CEPA Toxic Substances List  (CELA)

Related: A proposed integrated management approach to plastic products: discussion paper (Government of Canada)

October 13, 2020 – Canada Announces Intention to Add “Plastic Manufactured Items” to List of Toxic Substances (Bennett Jones)

Canada’s Proposed Order to Add “Plastic Manufactured Items” to Schedule 1 (the Toxic Substances List) of the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (CEPA) (US Department of Commerce)


April 2021 – the Council of the Great Lakes Region (CGLR) has announced the creation of Circular Great Lakes, a regional initiative focused initially on keeping valuable plastic materials out of the waste stream and the environment in this vital, binational economic region. Priorities include driving the systemic changes necessary to close the loop for plastics in the region, setting the stage for targeted actions and partnerships over the next five years.

April 29, 2021 – Fish have been swallowing microplastics since the 1950s (Eureka Alert)

April 19, 2021 – First Reading of Bill 279, An Act to amend the Environmental Protection Act to prohibit washing machines without microplastics filters


April 9, 2021 – webinar recap: Plastic Pollution in the Great Lakes: FOCA attended this webinar hosted by Ohio Sea Grant. The speakers confirmed that our plastic waste is  entering aquatic ecosystems at alarming rates: recent estimates were 10,000 metric tonnes  per year, but projections show that could rise to as high as 90,000 metric tonnes by 2030, unless changes are made. Access the slides and event recording here. 

Please note: the following is archival material, and some links to third-party resources may no longer be active.

March 10, 2020 – Microplastics are a Potential Vector for Chemical Contaminants (IJC)

November 5, 2019 – Eastern Ontario lakes test positive for microplastics (Watersheds Canada news release & report)

August 21, 2018 – Beer, Drinking Water And Fish: Tiny Plastic Is Everywhere (Great Lakes Today)

July 2, 2018 – Most toiletries with microplastics no longer for sale in Canada (CTV News)

May 16, 2017 – Quantifying Plastics in Canada’s Aquatic Landscapes: Rigour and Repetition
Is there a plastic takeover happening in Canada’s fresh water? (Canadian Science Publishing)

Microplastic contamination in Lake Winnipeg comparable to Lake Erie (Environmental Pollution, Volume 225, June 2017)

February 14, 2017 – Commission Makes Recommendations on Great Lakes Microplastic  (Water Canada)

  • FULL REPORT (February 2017): International Joint Commission’s Recommendations on Microplastics in the Great Lakes (PDF, 0.6 MB)
  • Excerpt: Improvement in waste management is key to reducing plastic debris in the aquatic environment: reduce or eliminate the release of plastics; lids for recycling bins; strategic placement of trash and recycling containers in public areas;  market-based bans and fees for single-use plastic items (e.g., bags, water bottles); enforcement of litter laws; bottle redemption programs may prove to be useful tools to reduce marine plastic debris.

December 30, 2016 – researchers estimate 10,000 tonnes of plastics enters the Great Lakes annually (Water Canada)

November 13, 2016  – Microfibers emerging as new environmental threat as Canada moves toward banning microbeads (National Post)

November 5, 2016 – Canada’s ban (Canada Gazette, Vol. 150, No. 45 )

November 4, 2016 – Canadian government moves to ban plastic microbeads in toiletries by July 2018 (The Canadian Press)

October 26, 2016 – Plastic fibers emerge as Great Lakes pollutant (Great Lakes Echo)

August 24, 2016 – Ottawa Riverkeeper scientists on the lookout for microplastics (CBC Ottawa) Note: Segment starts at 30:35 of clip

September 27, 2016 – Exactly How Much Plastic Is Floating In Great Lakes Might Surprise You (Time Warner Cable News)

August 8, 2016 – Government needs to recognize the growing issue of microplastics (CBC News)

June 30, 2016 – Microbeads listed as ‘toxic substance’ en route to ban (CBC)

December 7, 2015 – U.S. House passes microbead legislation (Detroit Free Press)

November 28, 2015 – What Comes Out in the Wash toxicological and ecological studies links micro- and nano-size debris to disease and mortality in humans and wildlife (New York Times)

March 24, 2015 –  Federal New Democrats’ motion calls on the government to take immediate action to designate microbead plastics as “toxic” under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act (1999), which would then allow the federal government to regulate, phase out, or eliminate the use of microbeads in products used or produced in Canada. See more:

Other: Liberal MP Kirsty Duncan speaks to the potential ban of microbeads (Youtube)


Dec 2014 – Plastic Microbeads in Canadian Lakes and Rivers

With Notes from Anne Wordsworth, Research Associate, Canadian Environmental Law Association December 2, 2014

The presence of plastic microbeads in the Great Lakes is a growing concern.
Lake Ontario now has an average of more than 1 million beads per square kilometre — tiny pieces of plastic, which come from soaps that exfoliate our skin and toothpastes that scrub our teeth. One jar of scrub can contain as many as 300,000 microbeads.

In June of 2014, a committee of advisors to the Great Lakes Fishery Commission passed a resolution calling on Canadian and American governments at all levels to prohibit the sale of cosmetic and personal care products containing microbeads by 2015. However, so far, the governments of Ontario and Canada

Some action is underway. The state of Illinois, bordering on Lake Michigan, is the first jurisdiction in the Great Lakes Basin to ban microbeads from consumer products, and a few companies, sensing public concern, have pledged to phase them out. The Illinois bill, however, stops short of banning biodegradable plastics, leaving the door open for ongoing problems.

As we wait for governments to respond we can take action as consumers, by avoiding the purchase and use of products containing … to these problems, the burden is on us to protect the lakes. Our only option is to exercise our power as consumers, refuse to buy products that contain polyethylene or polypropylene abrasives.
products, unfortunately, are required reading if we want to minimize the particles of plastic accumulating in the Great Lakes.

See the full blog post by CELA :
Plastic Microbeads in Consumer Products – Growing concern in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin


June 19, 2018 – Manufacturers in the UK no longer allowed to develop products containing microplastics (The Independent)

October 8, 2015 – Michigan lawmakers debate what a “good law” governing microplastics looks like

Environmentalists drawing a bead on microplastics, Ottawa Citizen

Microbeads in cleansing products contaminating the Great Lakes, Global News

Facial scrubs polluting Great Lakes with plastic, CBC News

Tiny plastic microbeads pile up into problems for the Great Lakes, PBS Newshour (video)

October 8, 2015 – California Becomes Latest State to Ban Plastic Microbeads (NY Times)

New campaign to reduce plastic waste underway after 3/4 of the fish in the Thames River (UK) are found to have plastic in their guts: Cleaner Thames

July 20, 2015 (Source: CBC News) – A 2014 study of the U.S. Great Lakes by the 5 Gyres Institute found an average of 43,000 microplastic particles per square kilometre. The plastic particles include microbeads, which are found in toothpaste and facial scrubs, but also other sources. Several US states, including Illinois and California, have already moved forward with a ban. New York State is also considering a ban, upon discovering that microbeads were present in 74 percent of water samples taken from 34 municipal and private treatment plants across New York State.This might not be surprising, given that in that state alone more than 19 tons of microbeads go down the drain every year.

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