Industry salutes National Refill Day gains but points to the challenge ahead
The water industry celebrated the achievements of the Refill programme on National Refill Day on Wednesday with a parliamentary reception, the launch of many new water top-up stations, and a wide range of Refill activities up and down the country.
Water UK announced at its Westminster reception hosted by Neil Parish MP that there are now more than 20,000 Refill stations where people can replenish their reusable bottles with free drinking water. Among the latest high street chains to join the “Refill revolution” were Greggs, Pret and Sweaty Betty. Meanwhile Network Rail unveiled a string of new fountains at many of the country’s busiest stations including London Victoria, Paddington, London Bridge and Birmingham. And water company teams and volunteers across the country brought Refill to life with pop up water stations and information on where to Refill locally.
National Refill Day was launched last year as the centrepiece of the Refill campaign to normalise refilling and make it as easy as possible for people to find free, high-quality, drinking water on the go to reduce plastic pollution from single use bottles. Founder City to Sea, Water UK and other partners want to create a national network of high street retailers, coffee shops, transport hubs and businesses offering to let the public to top-up their water bottles for free in every major city and town in England by 2021.
In Wales, the government has thrown its weight behind the campaign; the Welsh Government said it is committed to making Wales “the world’s first Refill nation” and is working with City to Sea, Welsh Water, Hafren Dyfrdwy and a network of businesses and other organisations to make the vision a reality. There has been no equivalent support from the UK government.
It is estimated that the Refill campaign will have stopped over 100 million single-use bottles from becoming waste by the end of 2019, and the Refill app showing the location of the top up points has been downloaded more than 140,000 times.
However there remains a long way to go: sales of bottled water continue to grow in the UK and hit a record £558.4m in the year to last November, an increase of 7%, according to the latest figures from the market analyst Kantar. According to the Environmental Audit Committee, consumption of bottled water has doubled over the last 15 years, with over 7 billion plastic water bottles used each year in the UK. This is despite the public indicating support to tackle plastic pollution. For example, on National Refill Day, Water UK issued the results of new research which showed three quarters of Brits think single use plastic should be considered socially unacceptable.
Earlier this year water companies outlined plans to prevent the equivalent of 4 billion plastic bottles ending up as waste by 2030 as part of their Public Interest Commitment.