| by Dan Black
City to Sea - A new initiative to support the use of re-usable water bottles
To say that plastic waste poses a serious issue for the environment is an understatement. A recent study published in the peer-review journal, Science Advances, found that of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic that has been produced worldwide, 6.3 billion metric tonnes has become plastic waste. Of that, only 9% has been recycled.
The solution, therefore, doesn’t lie in the cry for recycling but instead in a total recalibration of our approach to disposable plastic as a part of our everyday lives.
This is the message of City to Sea and the driving force of one of their largest initiatives, Refill, which is taking the UK by storm. We caught up with Natalie Fee, founder of City to Sea, to find out how this innovative approach to encouraging mass uptake of reusable water bottles came to be.
B+B: Tell us about the Refill initiative
Natalie Fee: Refill is our free tap water initiative, which we launched in 2015 in response to the crazy amount of single use bottles we were seeing littered everywhere and ending up in our seas.
It’s a national tap water campaign. Our objectives are to make refilling your bottle as easy, as convenient and as cheap as possible by giving you access to refill points on every street. So shops, cafes, hotels, restaurants, bars, in some cases even Lush and Specsavers, having stickers in the window and also on our app (they are all registered on our app) welcoming you in. Basically, to give you a free top up so you can fill your bottle up on the go.
The idea was to connect people to taps wherever they were so that they could refill for free on the go.
B+B: How does the app work?
Natalie: People can refill on the go, so they can find their nearest Refill station on the map and when you’re in the cafe topping up your bottle, the app registers your location and you just press the button and tell it that you’ve refilled and that gives you points. You can use those points to get rewards.
You don’t have to wait for volunteers in your area to add them to their map, you can just really easily add Refill stations to the map - your local cafe, your local shop on the way to work or by the train station, anywhere you want to refill and earn points, you can do. Everyone can become Refill Revolutionaries.
B+B: So you’re building an army of Refill Revolutionaries?
Natalie: Yes, people get really excited about it. And some people don’t like to carry around heavy bottles of water with them. So another great thing about Refill is you can take an empty bottle and just fill it whenever you need to and not lug around a litre of water with you.
B+B: How else can people get involved?
Natalie: We made a film with Rob Greenfield which they can share on social media and really be part of the Rise of the Reusable, which is a phrase that we like to use just to normalise the carrying of reusable bottle because that is essentially what we’re all about. We agree with a deposit scheme for single use bottles and we’re definitely pushing for a tax on single use plastic but ultimately we want people to be reusing and carrying a reusable water bottle.
B+B: How have cafes and restaurants reacted to giving people the opportunity to drink for free?
Natalie: Well actually it increases footfall and allows them to welcome people who may not have gone in otherwise, giving them a nice feeling of receiving something from them for free. So it builds relationships. It builds communities.
B+B: How many Refill points do you have on the map?
Natalie: Over a thousand, and that is a combination of shops and cafes and bars and hotels. Then we have business sponsors. So some schemes are sponsored by local businesses and some schemes are sponsored by local water providers in the area.
B+B: What are the main issues with single use plastic?
Natalie: Single use plastic bottles are a huge problem for environment in terms of litter and for our wildlife when they reach our rivers and seas and for us as well, in terms of the plastics that we’re now ingesting in our food chain. And single use plastic bottles are one of the biggest contributors to the problem of plastic pollution.
B+B: So how do we get more people using reusable bottles?
Natalie: The good thing is that reusable bottles are beautiful and they can be a statement and they can reflect our personality. Not just in terms of an environmental message and standpoint reflecting our environmental values but actually our style as well and how we value our health because obviously carrying your own water in a bottle is healthier than buying water that’s been held in a plastic bottle on the shelf.
B+B: What are your plans for 2018?
Natalie: Our plans for 2018 are really big. We’re launching Refill London, which is in partnership with Thames Water, so we’ve got lots of great things planned there...We’re also really looking at getting full coverage of the UK in 2018 and then expanding into Europe.
Itching to join the Refill Revolution? Get your design-led, reusable water bottle now. Our Eau Good water bottle goes one step further and actually filters your tap water while you’re on the go. It comes with a Binchotan activated charcoal filter, which makes tap water taste great and eliminates any toxins. Also don't forget to download the Refill App!