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Public urged to ditch plastics on first National Refill Day

The UK public are being urged to ditch single-use plastic water bottles and switch to a reusable water bottle as part of a national day of action to cut plastic pollution today (27 September).

The first ever National Refill Day comes as it is revealed that an overwhelming majority of the British public are concerned about plastic pollution.

The survey, by One Poll and commissioned by City to Sea, shows that 85 per cent of the public are worried about the impact of plastic pollution in the environment, and indicates that more people than ever are switching to reusable bottle instead of buying bottles of water in shops.

Eighty per cent of people surveyed this month now use a reusable water bottle, at least sometimes, when outside the home, while 44 per cent of people using a reusable bottle have made the switch in the last two years and 18 per cent have switched in the last year.

However, there are still barriers to people carrying a reusable bottle – the research showed that more people in the UK would ask to refill a reusable bottle (even if not making a purchase) if they knew where they could fill up for free, with 33 per cent saying they still feel very or somewhat uncomfortable asking to have their reusable bottle filled when not making a purchase.

In the UK, 7.7 billion plastic water bottles are used each year, with the average person in the UK now using 150 plastic water bottles every year – that’s more than three a week. Many are discarded, and end up polluting our rivers and seas. If just one in 10 Brits 'Refilled' just once a week, it would save around 340 million plastic bottles a year.

Refill, City to Sea’s award-winning campaign to get people ditching single-use water bottles in favour of reusable bottle, is the UK’s leading ‘app for tap’ – connecting people looking for water with businesses, water fountains and transport hubs where they can refill for free on the go.

City to Sea and Water UK, the trade body for companies supplying our tap water, joined forces in January this year to grow the campaign from a local grassroots scheme to a national movement.

Water UK’s funding has created an ambitious drive to help fight plastic waste. As part of the partnership, every water company in England aims to ensure people can refill their water bottles in every major town and city across the UK by 2021.

The partnership could save a billion bottles by 2025 with Refill Stations on every high street across the UK. The weight of plastic saved by removing one billion plastic bottles is equal to 12,700 metric tonnes, or just under 13 million kilograms. That is the equivalent of around 50 eurotunnel trains, or more than 2,100 African bush elephants.

The Refill campaign works by connecting people who are looking for water with thousands of local business, transport hubs and public spaces using a free app. Participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses simply sign up to the app and put a sticker in their window – alerting passers-by that they are welcome to come on in and fill up their bottle, even without a purchase.

There are now over 12,000 Refill Stations listed on the app in the UK, including train stations, airports and high street chains like Starbucks, Costa and Greggs. It is being revealed today that John Lewis has now become the first department store to join the Refill revolution, and Morrisons is the first supermarket to sign up to the scheme. Heathrow airport has also become the first official transport hub to sign up to the scheme and are pioneering the reduction of plastic bottle pollution in the aviation sector.

The app has recently been redeveloped to include a handy bottle reminder – good news for the 35 per cent of people surveyed who said the main reason they bought plastic bottles was because they forgot their reusable bottle.

The Refill campaign has money-saving benefits for customers too. A half-litre bottle of still water typically costs from around 30p in supermarkets to anything up to £2 in motorway service stations, compared to a twelfth of a penny for the equivalent volume of tap water.

Refill and Water UK are urging the UK public to get involved with National Refill Day by downloading the free app, carrying their reusable bottle and refilling on the go and sharing their involvement on social media using #NationalRefillDay and #RefillRevolution.

Natalie Fee, founder and CEO of City to Sea, said: “It’s been incredible to watch the campaign flourish over the past two years. We wanted to do something that everyone could get onboard with, that would drastically reduce the amount of pointless plastic we use when we’re out and about. People want to help stop plastic pollution, and Refill puts the power to do just that in peoples’ hands.”

Michael Roberts, chief executive of Water UK, the trade body representing all of the major water companies in the UK, 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.

"On National Refill Day, people can help turn this harmful tide of plastic waste by downloading the app and switching to a reusable bottle. 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 for free wherever they work, rest, shop or play.”

The survey for Refill undertaken by One Poll revealed that people aged over 55 were most concerned about plastic pollution, with 92 per cent worried about the environmental impact of plastic pollution compared to 76 per cent of 25-34 year olds. These concerns about plastic pollution are reflected in the behaviour of those surveyed - 79 per cent of older people (55+) were actively trying to reduce the amount of plastic they use, compared to 58 per cent of 25-34 year olds and 67 per cent of 18-24 year olds.

Again, it is the older generations leading the trend - those aged 45-54 were the most likely to carry a reusable bottle most of the time, compared to just 36 per cent of 25-34 year olds; 57 per cent of those aged 55+ use a reusable bottle because they concerned about the environmental impact of plastic bottles. Only 28 per cent of those aged 18-24 are concerned about the environmental impact of plastic bottles.

Single-use plastic bottles are expensive to produce, use up valuable natural resources to make and transport, and create mountains of waste once they’ve been used and discarded. So far, recycling does not appear to be adequately dealing with the problem, as it is estimated that only around half of the 38.5 million plastic bottles used in the UK every day are recycled, with around 16 million ending up in landfill, being burnt, or entering the environment and waterways.

The drive to improve public health in the UK in Victorian times saw the introduction of more modern drinking water fountains, particularly in London following the ‘Great Stink’ of 1858. Victorian philanthropists gained support for a plan to provide clean drinking water in poor areas, and the first fountain was opened on 21 April 1859 in a corner of Holy Sepulchre churchyard in Snow Hill in London’s Holborn area.

Many further drinking fountains were placed close to churches or churchyards, but later drinking fountains were often placed near pubs to give the thirsty public an alternative to drinking beer.

Author: Robin Hackett, editor, WWT
Topic: Policy & Regulation
Tags: Water UK , pollution , plastics waste

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