Concern has been growing about the role of microbeads in contributing to plastic pollution in the world’s oceans, with experts warning that thousands of the tiny plastic pieces get washed down the sink when the products are used.
The Government has come under growing pressure to take action in recent months, including from the chairman of Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh.
Defra has now published a consultation on proposals to ban the manufacture and sale of cosmetics and personal care products containing microbeads, with the aim of changing legislation by October 2017.
Announcing the consultation, Environment Secretary Andrea Leadsom said: “Adding tiny pieces of plastic to products like face washes and body scrubs is incredibly damaging to our sea life – they can swallow them, but cannot digest them.
“The UK has always been a leader in environmental protection and we take our responsibility to marine life - not only in our own seas, but around the world - very seriously.
“It’s encouraging many retailers and manufacturers are already taking action to phase out microbeads.
“But today we are making sure that in future they will have no place in personal care products, like shower gels and face scrubs, that end up going down the drain.”
Mrs Leadsom also urged people doing last minute Christmas shopping to look out for natural alternatives to microbeads in products they were buying.
Campaigners welcomed the move, but called for a complete ban on microbeads, which can also be found in products such as kitchen cleaners, from all sources not just cosmetics and personal care products.
Elisabeth Whitebread, oceans campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “It’s great news that the Government has listened to two-thirds of the British public who want to see microbeads banned.
“But we won’t stop these tiny plastics from polluting our oceans and harming marine life by only banning some of them. We need to ban them all.
“We can’t allow microbeads to pour through those loopholes and into our ocean.”