activism waste websites

How the Refill app is cutting plastic use

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a distinct uptick in the amount of attention plastic waste is getting. We’ve known about ocean plastics and recycling for years, but it suddenly seems to be on the agenda. I overhear conversations on bottle deposits or microbeads. A growing number of businesses are getting involved, from Dell computers to Sky News.

There have been documentaries, UN projects, and celebrity endorsements, but I suspect that in Britain the biggest boost has come from government policy. Last year saw the end of free plastic bags in supermarkets and chain stores. That’s something that almost everyone in the country will have encountered. It’s a very everyday thing, and everyone has an opinion about it. The plastic bag ban confronted us with an issue that was easy to ignore, and those moments are actually quite rare.

It was also successful: plastic bag use dropped 83% in the first six months, better than the 70% forecast ahead of the ban. Four out of five Britons were in favour of the idea, which makes you wonder why it took so long to bring in the ban in the first place. It’s also got a lot of people wondering what we could do next, with attention turning to a levy on plastic bottles.

While the government decides, a campaign in Bristol has come up with a simple and useful idea to reduce the number of plastic bottles we get through. The Refill app is a map that shows places where you can refill a water bottle for free. Cafes, bars and other businesses can add themselves as a refill station. Users can then look up the nearest place to them and go and top up their bottle of choice. To incentivise users to seek out free tap water rather than buy it bottled, you can collect points every time you refill. At the moment you can work towards a classy metal drinking bottle. In future you’ll be able to claim vouchers from ethical businesses.

Because Bristol got there first, there are over 200 places to refill a drinking bottle in the area. Several other places in the South West have a good number. The whole of London has 16 as of today, and Luton has none at all. Let’s see if we can fix that.

A proper campaign advances city by city, with cooperation from local water companies and partners. It takes a while to set up, and includes providing stickers for windows and awareness raising. That’s the end goal, but anyone can get started by posting their refill stations. If you’re based in Luton, here’s how you can help get us off the ground, and of course you can do this where you are too:

  • Ask your favourite local cafe if they would support the idea of free refills. Show the manager the app, and invite them to participate. If they agree, get on the app and add a new station.
  • Are you aware of a water fountain somewhere? Add it to the map.
  • Encourage your friends to do both of the above.

Since this is a relatively new app, there’s a good chance that you live in vacant territory too. So download it, see what’s happening where you are, and let’s see if we can add some new blue dots.

9 comments

  1. I find so much plastic in the water it drives me nuts. Mylar balloons are my other pet peeve.
    They make great stainless steel reusable bottles these days, and they’ve come down in price. Y’all USE ‘EM! 😡

  2. Wow Jeremy, I am jealous of the progress. We, as a family, make an effort to recycle plastic in all forms, but it is hardly a token act. I know several ways plastic bags are reused, but ultimately they become waste. It is good to see positive movement on this problem.

  3. This is great news! Also, it would be good if we could re-use our own coffee mugs to save waste from the disposable ones.

  4. We try and use less and less plastic in our everyday lives. We no longer use the plastic bags at the store even in the produce isle. Instead we bought some brown eco sacs on Amazon for around $12 and now we take those everywhere! We don’t buy water bottles try not to bring any plastic in our house. I hope to see more progress with less plastic in our oceans AND I hope to see less plastic products being made! Thanks for sharing your post!

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