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Ban on polluting 'microbeads' enters into force in UK

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The U.K. ban on the manufacture of products containing "microbeads" has come into force, with the government claiming it will prevent "billions" of the small polluting plastics from entering the ocean each year.

In an announcement on Tuesday, the U.K.'s Environment Minister Therese Coffey said that producers of personal care products and cosmetics would not be allowed to add microbeads to "rinse-off" goods such as toothpastes, face scrubs and shower gels.

"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," Coffey said in a statement.

"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," she added.

The tiny beads of plastic help with exfoliating the skin, but are seen as a blight on wildlife, particularly marine life, and environmental groups welcomed the ban.

The Marine Conservation Society's Senior Pollution Officer, Sue Kinsey, said the group was "delighted that such a robust microbead ban" had come into force.

Kinsey added that the ban was the strongest and most comprehensive to be enacted and that it would help to "stem the flow of micro plastics into our oceans."

Friends of the Earth waste campaigner, Julian Kirby, described the ban on microbeads in rinse-off cosmetics and cleaning products as "an important step towards protecting wildlife and human health from the scourge of plastic pollution."

There was still room for improvement, however, with Kirby adding that the ban did not cover a host of products like lipstick, sun cream and paints.

The government said that a ban on the sale of products containing microbeads would be introduced later this year.