In an ambitious drive to help fight plastic waste, water companies will join forces with the Refill campaign to create a national network of high street retailers, coffee shops and businesses offering new refill stations for the public to top-up their water bottles for free in every major city and town in England by 2021.
The move comes amid growing concern about the effect of plastic waste on the environment.
Water UK says the new scheme will cut plastic bottle use by tens of millions each year as well as substantially increasing the availability of high quality drinking water.
Whitbread plc has pledged to offer free drinking water for customers and passers-by in each of its Costa Coffee and Premier Inn locations from March 2018.
James Pitcher, Whitbread director of sustainability, said: “At Whitbread we are committed to reducing our impact on the environment and playing our part to tackle the issue of plastic waste.
“We are very much looking forward to participating in this innovative scheme, with over 3,000 Costa stores, Premier Inn hotels and restaurants the length and breadth of the country we can make it easier for people to refill for free, helping to reduce the number of plastic bottles being littered or thrown away.”
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 across the UK.
Water companies are currently taking part in four local Refill schemes in England to provide free drinking water; Anglian Water in Norwich; Northumbrian Water in Durham; South West Water in Cornwall; and Bristol Water in Bristol.
Water UK points to the Refill Bristol scheme, which launched in September 2015 and now has more than 200 refill points across Bristol’s city centre, as what can be achieved through the initiative.
It is estimated that if every Bristolian refilled a bottle once a week instead of buying a single-use plastic bottle, the city would reduce its plastic bottle consumption by 22.3 million a year.
The current scheme, now happening in 13 towns and cities in England, encourages participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses to sign up to a free app which alerts users to their nearest refill station, and put a sticker in their window alerting passers-by to the fact they’re welcome to fill up their bottle for free- a strategy which will continue in the new iniatitve.
Launching the new scheme, Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts 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.
“By refilling water bottles, we can all help turn this harmful tide of plastic waste. 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 wherever they work, rest, shop or paly.”