A new UK scheme to allow consumers to refill plastic water bottles in public places could reduce the number of bottles in circulation “by tens of millions” every year, according to the organisation behind it.
In an ambitious drive to help fight plastic waste, water companies will join forces with the Refill campaign to create a national network of high-street retailers, coffee shops, businesses and local authorities that offer public refill stations by 2021.
Consumers will be able to use an app on their phone to find out where the nearest refill point is, or look out for special signs in shop windows.
As well as being able to get drinking water from shops and businesses, some water companies are looking at installing new public drinking fountains and restoring some historical ones which have fallen into disuse. The scheme extends a similar initiative trialled in the capital by London mayor Sadiq Khan.
Costa Coffee will be one of the first companies to sign up to the scheme, committing to install free refill stations in all of its UK locations by March. The Whitbread-owned chain has already rolled out a nationwide recycling scheme that takes in used coffee cups – even those from rivals like Starbucks.
Launching the new scheme, Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: “As an industry with a strong focus on the environment we are passionate about tackling the problems caused by plastic bottles, which clog up rivers and drains and pollute our seas. By refilling water bottles, we can all help turn this harmful tide of plastic waste. This country has some of the best drinking water in the world and we want everyone to benefit from it. This scheme will do that by making it easier for people to refill their bottles wherever they work, rest, shop or play.”
The water industry was inspired to launch the new initiative by successful schemes run by the Refill campaign, which now has over 1,600 refill stations across the UK.
Some water companies are currently taking part in four local Refill schemes in England to provide free drinking water – including a successful scheme run by Bristol Water that includes more than 200 refill points and has the capacity to reduce plastic bottle use by 22.3 million bottles a year. The new partnership between the water industry and Refill will see all mains water suppliers in England support the expansion of the scheme over the next two years.
Natalie Fee, founder of City to Sea, the organisation which is the driving force behind the Refill scheme, said: “We’ve seen a huge appetite for our Refill campaign across England, from individuals wanting to make a difference in their community to national chains keen to offer free refills to their customers. Our Refill app puts the power to stop plastic pollution in people’s hands – and now thanks to the water industry we’ll be able to help everyone, from local communities to airports, to provide free refills on the go.”
And James Pitcher, director of sustainability for Whitbread, added: “At Whitbread we are committed to reducing our impact on the environment and playing our part to tackle the issue of plastic waste. We are very much looking forward to participating in this innovative scheme, with over 3,000 Costa stores, Premier Inn hotels and restaurants the length and breadth of the country we can make it easier for people to refill for free, helping to reduce the number of plastic bottles being littered or thrown away.”
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