Plans for cross-London water fountain network to tackle plastic bottle waste

Proposals for a network of drinking fountains and bottle-refill points across the capital have been revealed in the Guardian today by Shirley Rodrigues, London’s deputy mayor for the environment.

7.7 billion plastic drinking bottles are used and disposed of yearly in the UK, and a pilot scheme to start this summer will see 20 new fountains installed across London in the hope of reducing this problematic figure. Potential locations for the fountains include tube stations and busy shopping streets: Rodrigues told the Guardian that they would be making “partnerships with organisations like business improvement districts and boroughs and others to understand where we can install more water fountains”.

The #OneLess project, a movement against disposable plastic bottles run by the Zoological Society of London, will be analysing whether the fountains have a positive effect on levels of plastic in the local environment. The project’s co-director, Dr Heather Koldewey, added that the “average Londoner gets through 175 bottles of water each year - that’s over a billion on a city level. Many of these end up in the ocean, harming marine creatures and poisoning our food chain.

“This pilot scheme will help Londoners to make the switch from wasteful single-use plastic water bottles to refilling - good news for London and the ocean.”

Plans for cross-London water fountain network to tackle plastic bottle waste
Fountains were introduced in London's Borough Market last year

Last year, London’s Borough Market sought to promote reuse of bottles by introducing hygienic, freeze resistant fountains that offer different streams to drink from and fill bottles and shrouds the water dispensers so that users can’t put their mouths directly on the spouts, ensuring that the water supply is hygienic.

A bottle-refill initiative is also being set up with the aid of plastic waste campaign group City to Sea, which will see businesses in five as-yet unannounced areas of London advertising that their water is freely available to the public. One such scheme has been in place in Bristol since 2015; the first Refill project set up by City to Sea, Refill Bristol now has over 200 bottle-refill points registered online, with an app which rewards users for refilling and allows anyone to expand the network by adding a new location to the map. The project has now been extended to 13 locations and over 1,600 refill points around the UK.

Research by litter reduction charity Keep Britain Tidy and water filter manufacturer BRITA UK last year revealed that 71 per cent of people felt uncomfortable asking for tap water from businesses, even though it is the law that all licensed premises must provide water free of charge. The charity recommended the widespread use of community refill schemes which make more obvious where drinking water can be accessed.

The initiative in London comes as part of Sadiq Khan’s £750,000 proposal to reduce plastic bottle waste over the next three years, revealed in the Mayor’s budget in December 2017. In April that year the London Assembly’s Environment Committee published a report into the impact of plastic bottles and found that they make up 10 per cent of all litter in the River Thames.

As a result of these findings the Assembly called for research into a deposit return scheme (DRS) for London, with the view that the city act as a trial site before a potential nationwide scheme. A DRS was also recommended by Parliament’s Environmental Audit Committee in its report on plastic waste released in December last year.

Khan’s draft London Environment Strategy, published last August, did propose investigation into a DRS, although a spokesperson for the Mayor previously said he was more in favour of a national scheme than one specific to London. In terms of waste policy more generally, the draft set a 65 per cent municipal waste recycling target for 2030 as well as minimum recycling and food waste standards to be met by London authorities by 2020.

The Assembly’s Budget Committee will look over the plans at a plenary meeting this Thursday (25 January) before the final strategy is published some time in 2018.

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