Plastic microbeads can no longer be used in cosmetics and personal care products in the UK – the ban came into effect in 2018. The ban initially barred the manufacture of such products and a ban on sales followed some months later. Thousands of tonnes of plastic microbeads from products such as exfoliating face scrubs and toothpastes washed into the sea every year, where they harmed wildlife and can ultimately be eaten by people.

The tiny bits of plastic end up in waterways and oceans, giving rise to increasing concern about their effect on marine ecosystems. It is estimated that there are more than 5 trillion pieces of plastic, with a combined mass of more than 250,000 tons, are floating in our oceans.

The EU Chemicals Agency ECHA have now proposed a ban on deliberately adding micro-plastics to products such as cosmetics, detergents and agricultural fertilisers in the EU by 2020, to combat pollution.

The tiny bits of plastic pollution end up in waterways and oceans, giving rise to increasing concern among scientists about their effect on marine ecosystems.

The European Commission, which estimates that between 70,000 and 200,000 tonnes of micro-plastics enter the environment each year, had requested the proposal from the ECHA as part of its plastics strategy.

This proposal aims to avoid nearly 30,000 tonnes of micro-plastics ending up in nature a year according to the ECHA’s spokesman, Matti Vainio. The Commission’s Vice President Jyrki Katainen, hopes that an EU ban could set a standard for industries around the world.

The European Union is aiming to be the first in the world to launch a comprehensive plastics strategy that aims at reducing also micro-plastics. Without such a ban, the use of micro-plastics will undoubtedly continue to increase rapidly.

Surprisingly, it appeared that agriculture is the largest user of micro-plastics, largely as a result of a widely used technology to encapsulate agricultural fertilisers within tiny plastic shells that emit them slowly into the soil but leave behind micro-plastics.

The proposed ban would exclude some products such as medicine and paints.