London trial for free tap water ‘refill’ scheme

Shops and businesses across London have signed up to take part in a trial scheme that offers free tap water ‘refills’ to members of the public as part of the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan’s efforts to tackle single-use plastic waste.

The scheme is a pilot of the Refill London scheme, run jointly by Thames Water and ocean pollution campaign group City To Sea, which has been rolled out in other parts of country, notably in Bath and Bristol, as a way to encourage people to use re-usable water bottles as opposed to disposable plastic bottles, which often find their way into the nation’s waterways after ending up as litter.

7.7 billion plastic drinking bottles are used and disposed of yearly in the UK, with the average Londoner buying more than three plastic water bottles a week - a clear illustration of the sheer scale of the plastic waste problem in this country.

Commenting on the trial, Khan said: “A free tap water scheme is long overdue in London and I welcome all of the retailers and business who have shown their strong commitment to reducing unnecessary plastic waste by joining the London Refill scheme.

London trial for free tap water ‘refill’ scheme

“We all need to try harder to cut the excessive use of single-use plastic bottles, cups and cutlery that can end up pointlessly overflowing our landfill sites, finding their way into our oceans and harming our environment.  I hope that even more businesses sign up to the scheme to help Londoners make small but significant steps, like refilling our bottles, to drive down plastic waste. City Hall is part of the scheme and I encourage everyone to download the free London Refill app to see which outlets are involved.”

The Refill London scheme will initially operate in five areas of London: Greenwich town centre, Lewisham High Street, the Southbank and Bankside, Regent Street and London Bridge. A wide array of more than 65 businesses including Costa Coffee, Tate Modern and the BFI Imax have already signed up to the trial and will be added to the free Refill app and website that lists all the London locations and the more than 5,700 refill locations across the UK.

Participating venues will have ‘refill’ stickers in their windows to let people know they offer free tap water. The first phase of the trial will be evaluated by the #OneLess campaign, which is run by the Zoological Society of London and works towards a London without single-use plastic bottles.                                          

Commenting on the launch of the trial, City to Sea founder, Natalie Fee, said: “Refill puts the power to stop plastic pollution in people's hands - it's a fantastically easy way to reduce your plastic consumption and save money at the same time. Businesses can add themselves to the app too and help create the wave of change needed to keep plastic bottles out of the Thames!"

Thames Water Chief Executive, Steve Robertson, added: “Nurturing and protecting the environment is a core mission for Thames Water and we are proud of the quality of our tap water. By making it even more accessible we can together limit the use of millions of single-use plastic bottles which sadly end up in landfill or in our rivers and oceans."

The trial scheme is part of the Mayor of London’s drive to make London a more sustainable city, setting ambitious targets in his draft London Environment Strategy including sending no biodegradable or recyclable waste to landfill by 2026 and recycling 65 per cent of London’s municipal waste by 2035.

Other plans to reduce plastic waste in particular include a network of 20 new water fountains to be installed across London - another project from #OneLess - with a pilot scheme set to start in the summer. The Mayor is also considering proposals by the London Assembly to improve the capture of waste plastics through exploring the possibility of a deposit return scheme (DRS) for plastic bottles, an idea that has moved to the forefront of environmental policy debate, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove launching a consultation on its introduction back in October last year.

You can find out more about the Refill London scheme and other schemes across the UK on the Refill website.

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