Can community refill schemes like Bristol's help solve plastic waste crisis?

Providing more free water refill sources across cities could be a viable approach to reducing plastic pollution in our cities and waterways. Bristol has been getting on board, launching a new public drinking water fountain in a bid to cut down on plastic waste.

Can community refill schemes like Bristol's help solve plastic waste crisis?
Water fountains like Eunomia's in urban areas can help promote the use of refillable bottles
Last week, Bristol Mayor Marvin Rees opened a free public drinking fountain and bottle filling station in the historic Queens Square in Bristol city centre. The fountain is the result of a partnership between environmental consultancy Eunomia Research and Consulting, Bristol Waste, Bristol Water and Bristol City Council and joins an existing fountain in the city’s Millennium Square.

The Queens Square fountain launch was supported by the Refill Bristol project, launched in 2015 by Bristol campaigners City to Sea. Refill is designed to reduce plastic pollution by building a network of free water points for people to refill their bottles, reducing the need for single-use plastic bottles.

The project has schemes in Bristol (there are over 200 refill points across the city centre), Bude, Bath, Devon and Dorset and has created an app which helps users remember to bring their refillable bottles with them when they leave home and locate refill points when they are out, rewarding them with points for refilling.

Speaking at the launch of the new fountain in Queens Square, Eunomia Chairman Dominic Hogg said: “There’s growing awareness of the problems created by littering, and especially of plastics. As well as being an eyesore, littered bottles can find their way to our oceans where they slowly degrade, causing problems for wildlife, and also, for us.

Plastic bottles make up 10 per cent of all litter found in the River Thames
“Drinking water from disposable bottles is also needlessly wasteful. Every time a portable water bottle is refilled, we’re saving enough carbon to charge a mobile phone five times over. That’s why we’re using our company offset scheme to fund it. We hope other businesses will consider sponsoring a water fountain in a public space nearby.”

Alternative drinking water sources ‘essential’

A report released last month by the London Assembly Environment Committee, ‘Bottled Water’, found that plastic bottles make up 10 per cent of all litter found in the River Thames, and stated that providing alternative drinking water sources for Londoners is ‘essential’ to preserving marine life and the natural environment of the city. It urged Mayor of London Sadiq Khan to investigate the possibility of installing more water refilling stations on the London Transport Network.

Bristol has been supporting the Refill Project for a number of years, as Ben Newby, Customer Services Director at Bristol Water, attests: “It is great to see other cities, such as Birmingham and Brighton, starting up similar campaigns but Bristol is leading the way with over 200 refill stations available. It is vitally important that people stay hydrated, especially in the summer months. Only about four per cent of the 150 litres of water each person uses every day is for drinking.”

Schemes like Refill Bristol are being put forward as a way to tackle the issue of plastic waste, which has harmful consequences for the marine environment.

Can community refill schemes like Bristol's help solve plastic waste crisis?
L-R: Dominic Hogg, Eunomia; Tracey Morgan, Managing Director at Bristol Waste; Mayor Marvin Rees and Natalie Fee, Founder of City to Sea
A report released by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation in January 2016 claimed that if humans do not change the way they produce, consume, and dispose of plastic, there would be more plastic than fish in the oceans by 2050, with eight million tonnes of plastic waste entering the marine environment every year.

More information about the Refill project can be found on the movement’s website.

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