Industry creates a splash with national refill scheme

Water companies won widespread public and media praise last week for joining forces with the Refill campaign to create a national network of stations for the public to top-up their water bottles for free in every major city and town in England by 2021.

The water industry was inspired to create the new initiative by the successful schemes run by the Refill campaign, which now has over 1600 refill stations in 13 towns in the UK. The scheme encourages participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses to offer passers by as well as customers free water refills. People use an app on their phone to find out where the nearest refill point is, or look out for special signs in shop windows.

Four water companies are already involved: Anglian Water in Norwich; Northumbrian Water in Durham; South West Water in Cornwall; and Bristol Water in Bristol, which has championed the scheme since 2015 (pictured). The new partnership will see all water companies in England support the massive expansion of the scheme over the next two years. Water companies will work with Refill to develop local action plans by September 2018. This will include expanding the number of refill stations available, as well as the provision in some places of new outdoor drinking fountains and re-usable bottles. The next stage will be to put in place a network of community refill points and a national app to enable the public to find their nearest refill station.

The first business to join the national drinking water scheme is Whitbread, which has pledged today to offer free drinking water for customers and passers-by in each of its 3000 Costa Coffee and Premier Inn locations from March 2018.

The scheme is designed to reduce plastic bottle pollution, promote the benefits of drinking tap water, and save people money – the cost to customers who fill up bottles from a tap in their own home is 360 times cheaper than if they bought bottled water from a supermarket. The cost if they get it from one of the new refill points will be zero.