LONDON — A ban on environmentally damaging microbeads found in toothpastes, face scrubs and shower gels came into effect Tuesday in the United Kingdom.
The moves prevents manufacturers of cosmetics and personal-care items from adding the small pieces of plastic to their products. They often end up in the ocean after being washed down the drain, damaging marine plant and animal life.
Former President Barack Obama signed a U.S. ban on microbeads into law in late 2015.
Microbeads are also a potential hazard to human health: Scientists believe some fish in lakes may soak up the toxins they release, which can then be passed back to people who consume the fish. These toxins can disrupt hormone levels and cause cancer.
"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," the U.K.'s Environment Minister Therese 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.
Last week, British parliamentarians called on the government to introduce a special tax — the so-called latte levy — on disposable coffee cups. Britons throw away about 2.5 billion of them each year, according to a study by Cardiff University.
And two years ago, Britain introduced a law requiring all large stores to charge 5 pence, about 7 U.S. cents, for all single-use plastic bags.
The United Nations has called for specific international goals to reduce plastic waste in oceans. It has faced opposition from the U.S. and China.