With a single shower sending up to 100,000 of the tiny plastic pieces in to the oceans, the Government has moved in the face of growing environmental concern at the damage being done to marine life.
Widespread fear that microbeads, used in everyday items like toothpaste and exfoliating body scrubs, are polluting the seas and could potentially enter the food chain, has already seen the US announce a ban on their use in cosmetics.
A consultation process will be launched on banning the plastics from cosmetics and bathroom products in the UK, with legislation expected next year, and their removal by the end of 2017.
A study will also be carried out on the environmental damage being done by microbeads in household and industrial cleaning products.
Ms Leadsom said the move was needed to protect sea life. “Most people would be dismayed to know the face scrub or toothpaste they use was causing irreversible damage to the environment, with billions of indigestible plastic pieces poisoning sea creatures.
“Adding plastic to products like face washes and body scrubs is wholly unnecessary when harmless alternatives can be used.
“This is the next step in tackling microplastics in our seas following the success of the 5p plastic bag charge, and I look forward to working with industry and environmental groups.
“This Government is committed to its promise to be the first generation ever to leave the environment in a better state than it inherited, and together we can bring an end to these harmful plastics clogging up our oceans,” she said.
Twenty-five UK cosmetics and toiletries companies have already taken steps to voluntarily phase out microbeads from their products, and Waitrose has said they will stop stocking such products by the end of September.
Carrie Hume, director of conservation at the Marine Conservation Society, said: “The Government, the public and campaigners are all in agreement that it isn’t acceptable to harm marine life by including microbeads in these products.
“We welcome this announcement, it is a big step forward in tackling microplastic pollution and demonstrates strong leadership from Government. The public doesn’t want to harm marine life by washing millions of plastic particles down the drain, into the ocean.
“We are excited by this policy direction and the broad scope of the forthcoming consultation.”
The Government will consult industry, environmental groups, and other relevant parties to establish how and when a ban could be introduced, the Environment Department said.