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Plastic microbeads expected to be banned by end of 2017

Microbeads used in bathroom products are expected to be banned by the government by the end of next year.

The small pieces of plastic are commonly found in toothpaste, exfoliating body scrubs and other household products and are thought to be damaging the environment.

A consultation on how a ban on the material would work is expected to be announced on Saturday.

MPs had last month called for a ban on the material as soon as possible.

Environmentalists fear microbeads are building up in oceans across the world, potentially damaging wildlife and entering the food chain.

A number of cosmetic companies have made voluntary commitments to phase out the use of them by 2020.

But the Environmental Audit Committee last month said the government needed to step in to protect the environment as soon as is practicable, due to the threats they pose.

The committee’s report suggested microplastic pollution could be more damaging to the environment than larger pieces of plastic because its size makes it more likely to be eaten by wildlife and then potentially enter the food chain.

As an example, it said a plate of six oysters can contain up to 50 particles of plastic.

The report said the cosmetics industry was failing to adequately label products which contain microbeads and urged ministers to ensure greater transparency for consumers.

More than 280 marine species have been found to ingest microplastics, but the committee said much more research was needed into plastic pollution because there was huge uncertainty about the ecological risk.

It added there was ‘little evidence’ about the potential human health impacts of microplastic pollution, but said further research was ‘clearly required’.

‘Credit to May’

Commenting on the expected government move, Greenpeace UK senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge said: ‘It’s a credit to Theresa May’s government that they’ve listened to concerns from the public, scientists and MPs, and taken a first step towards banning microbeads.

‘Marine life doesn’t distinguish between plastic from a face wash and plastic from a washing detergent, so the ban should be extended to microplastics in any product that could be flushed down the drain.

‘If Theresa May wants to show real leadership on this issue, that’s the kind of ban she should back.’

Last month the government said it would consider a ban on microbeads in cosmetics if the EU did not legislate against them.

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