The battle against “microbeads” has commenced, as a UK-wide ban on the manufacture of cosmetics and care products containing tiny pieces of the plastic has come into force.
The aim is to protect the marine environment from one source of plastic pollution, as microbeads are washed down the drain and can end up in the seas, swallowed by fish and crustaceans with potentially harmful effects.
Manufacturers of cosmetics and personal care products can no longer add the miniscule plastic pieces to toiletries such as face scrubs, shower gels and toothpastes.
It will be followed by a ban on the sale of products containing microbeads later in the year, the Government said.
Therese Coffrey, Environment Minister, said: “The world’s seas and oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets and I am determined we act now to tackle the plastic that devastates our precious marine life.
“Microbeads are entirely unnecessary when there are so many natural alternatives available, and I am delighted that from today cosmetics manufacturers will no longer be able to add this harmful plastic to their rinse-off products.
“Now we have reached this important milestone, we will explore how we can build on our world-leading ban and tackle other forms of plastic waste.”
Dr Sue Kinsey, senior pollution officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “We believe that this signals a real commitment on the part of this Government to clean up our seas and beaches and hope this is a first step on this road before we see further actions to combat plastic waste.”
Labour’s Mary Creagh, chairwoman of the parliamentary Environmental Audit Committee, added: “Our seas are choked with massive quantities of polluting microplastics, which absorb chemicals, are eaten by wildlife and enter the food chain.
“Microbeads in cosmetics are an avoidable part of the problem, which is why we called for a ban.
“Since we called for a ban, my committee has also recommended a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles, a latte levy for plastic-lined coffee cups and reforms to make producers responsible for their packaging.
“We look forward to hearing the Government’s response.”