The International Joint Commission (IJC) is again at the forefront on waterborne pollutants.   After their recent success in both the United States and Canada to obtain measures that will stem the flow of microbeads into North American waters, the IJC has begun a lobbying effort of the two national governments to expand their regulatory efforts to restrict the dissemination of microplastics more generally.

Microplastics range in size between 0.333 mm and 5 mm in size and originate from industrial and consumer sources which have degraded in water and frequently find their way into the aquatic food chain and give rise to a number of toxicological effects.

It is argued that microbeads, as a discrete subset of microplastics were comparatively easy to address as they came from a narrow range of clearly identified sources, such as cosmetics.  The broader microplastics class are believed to originate from all types of plastics wastes and their regulation but effective testing to identify the source of microplastics are only in the developmental stage.  In October 2016, U.S. EPA continued its Trash Free Waters program, begun in 2014, by hosting a workshop to encourage citizens to be involved in the development of sampling and analytical methods and sampling to detect microplastics.  It is expected that research and regulatory efforts relating to microplastics will continue at the federal and state/provincial level in the U.S. and Canada.

The IJC has expressed concern that microplastics represent a potentially serious threat to the Great Lake and that significant knowledge gaps remain to be filled. An April 2016 binational workshop was held to address the problem, giving rise to four preliminary recommendations:

  • encourage a binational pollution prevention plan utilizing multiple approaches and tools
  • propose developing science-based, standardized, binational monitoring and research into product lifecycles, human and ecological health impacts, and best prevention practices
  • advise governments to examine, promote, and support pollution reduction and prevention programs that are existing and effective
  • advocate funding support for local education and outreach programs and organizations focused on pollution reduction and prevention.

Consultation on these recommendations continues until November 10th, 2016, which will likely trigger another opportunity with the respective national regulators for business to become involved in influencing the course of the impending regulation, which may involve the entire product lifecycle of plastics.


Jonathan D. Cocker heads Baker McKenzie’s Environmental Practice Group in Canada and is an active member of the firm's Global Consumer Goods & Retail and Energy, Mining and Infrastructure groups. Mr. Cocker provides advice and representation to multinational companies on a variety of environmental and product compliance matters, including extended producer responsibilities, dangerous goods transportation, GHS, regulated wastes, consumer product and food safety, and contaminated lands matters. He assisted in the founding of one of North America’s first Circular Economy Producer Responsibility Organizations and provides advice and representation to a number of domestic and international industry groups in respect of resource recovery obligations. Mr. Cocker was recently appointed the first Sustainability Officer of the International Bar Association Mr. Cocker is a frequent speaker and writer on environmental issues and has authored numerous publications including recent publications in the Environment and Climate Change Law Review, Detritus – the Official Journal of the International Waste Working Group, Chemical Watch, Circular Economy: Global Perspectives published by Springer, and in the upcoming Yale University Journal of Industrial Ecology’s special issue on Material Efficiency for Climate Change Mitigation. Mr. Cocker maintains a blog focused upon international resource recovery issues at


Mr. Sanders leads Baker & McKenzie’s U.S. environmental litigation practice. He represents both domestic and non-U.S. corporations before federal, state and administrative courts in environmental, class action, mass tort and product liability litigation, government enforcement, permitting and criminal proceedings. He counsels companies with respect to compliance with CERCLA, RCRA, CWA, TSCA, OSHA and state environmental and product regulations. Mr. Sanders advises multi-national and domestic corporations on environmental, health and safety statutory requirements and legal risks with respect to products sold or marketed in the United States, including responding to product liability claims and recalls. He also advises clients on environmental, health & safety risks and liabilities in transactions.