A ban on the sale of products containing microbeads has come into force to help prevent these harmful pieces of plastic entering the marine environment.

From today, retailers across England and Scotland will no longer be able to sell rinse-off cosmetics and personal care products that contain microbeads. These tiny pieces of plastic are often added to products such as face scrubs, soaps, toothpaste and shower gels.

Just one shower alone is thought to send 100,000 microbeads down the drain and into the ocean, causing serious harm to marine life. The new ban will prevent billions of microbeads ending up in the ocean every year.

Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, said: "Microbeads might be tiny, but they are lethal to sea creatures and entirely unnecessary.

We have led the way in banning these toxic pieces of plastic, but this is by no means the end in our fight. We will now press ahead with our proposals for a deposit return scheme and ban other damaging plastic such as straws.”

Today’s announcement follows January’s ban on the manufacture of products containing microbeads.

It sits alongside the government’s 5p plastic bag charge which has taken nine billion bags out of circulation and recent proposals for a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and a ban on the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and plastic-stemmed cotton buds.

It also forms part of the 25 Year Environment Plan commitment to eliminate avoidable plastic waste and sits alongside the Treasury’s call for evidence on how changes to the tax system could be used to reduce single use plastics.

With the microbeads ban now in place, the government is exploring how other microplastic sources enter our marine environment. Last month £200,000 was pledged for scientists at the University of Plymouth to explore how tiny plastic particles from tyres, synthetic materials like polyester, and fishing gear such as nets, ropes and lines enter waterways and oceans.

The government also launched the Commonwealth Clean Oceans Alliance earlier this year to help eliminate single use plastic and address marine plastic pollution across the Commonwealth. As part of this member states have pledged to take action on plastics, be this by a ban on microbeads or committing to eliminate avoidable plastic waste.

Dr Sue Kinsey, senior pollution policy officer at the Marine Conservation Society, said: "We are delighted that this robust microbead ban has come into force. This is the strongest and most comprehensive ban to be enacted in the world so far and will help to stem the flow of microplastics into our oceans. We believe that this signals a real commitment on the part of this government to clean up our seas and beaches and we look forward to seeing further actions to combat plastic waste.”