British Ban on Microbeads to Protect Oceans Comes Into Force

U.K.’s ban on making products with microbeads — tiny plastic particles in everything from cosmetics to shampoo and toothpaste — takes effect Tuesday in an effort to protect marine life.

“I am delighted that from today cosmetics manufacturers will no longer be able to add this harmful plastic to their rinse-off products,” said Environment Minister Therese Coffey. “The world’s seas and oceans are some of our most valuable natural assets. I am determined we act now to tackle the plastic that devastates our precious marine life.”

The plastic beads are added to these products to act as an exfoliant. They are typically so small that they flow through treatment filters, polluting waterways with particles that are ultimately eaten or absorbed by wildlife in rivers and seas.

Other countries have also taken steps to banning them in products. Former U.S. president Barack Obama signed a bill to outlaw microbeads in rinse-off products in the U.S. in 2015. New Zealand and Canada have also prohibited them, effective this year.

The U.K.’s is “the strongest and most comprehensive ban to be enacted in the world and will help to stem the flow of micro plastics into our oceans,” said Sue Kinsey, senior pollution officer at the Marine Conservation Society.

The nation added a 5 pence charge to plastic bags in supermarkets and other shops in 2015. It may also enact other initiatives to try to reduce waste, according to Coffey. Next up will be a ban on the sale of products with microbeads, according to an emailed statement.

“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,” she said.

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