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Published November, 2019

Carrying a reusable water bottle saves money, effort, but most importantly – the planet. Refill, an app designed to connect people with their nearest taps, where they can fill up their water bottle for free, aims to change the way we think about consumption.

Ever felt thirsty and dehydrated while running errands out and about in London, or busy working all day, so you popped up to the nearest supermarket to grab a bottle of water? It’s the quick fix. But by solving one problem, we as consumers feed into one that’s much bigger. Buying a plastic bottle might not seem like a big deal, as it’s easily disposable. 

Only nine per cent of the plastic waste produced in 2015 has been recycled. The rest was dumped in the ocean. Eventually, this waste will come back to us through the food we consume, the air we breathe and the beaches we love. 

What is Refill?

To try to break this circle of contamination, back in 2015 a group of young environmentalists from Bristol started the non-profit organisation City to Sea. Their main goal was to prevent single-use plastic from reaching the water cycle and to change the convenience culture surrounding plastic use.

Refill, one of their most successful campaigns, is a network of stations offering free tap water. Talking to the Voice of London, Natalie Taylor, Refill London Coordinator, says:

“The sales of bottled water are still increasing despite having that as a solution, so we are looking into changing behaviours in people carrying reusable bottles.”  


Refill operates through a location-based app which shows a map of the nearest water refilling points. A registered station can be anything from a jug of tap water in a cafe to a tap behind the bar or a water fountain in a public library. The only requirement is to be publicly accessible. 

In London, there are currently more than 3,000 refilling stations. With the support of big retailers such as Pret-a-Manger and Greggs, who have agreed to include all of their shops in the scheme, the map keeps expanding. 

As one of their most recent campaigns in the capital, Refill brought The Mayor of London and Thames Water together to create more than 100 new water fountains in busy and easily accessible spots around London over 18 months. 

The future of Refill

Natalie Taylor shared plans for the campaign to go beyond just water. Pilots have already started in Bristol and Oxford for the Refill app to show shops where it is possible for customers to bring their own coffee cup or a reusable food container, to further reduce the plastic waste. 

Infographic by: Maria Astardjieva | Source: House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee

The bigger culprit

The average Londoner buys a disposable water bottle at least three times a week, according to #OneLess Campaign. This makes for a staggering 175 bottles a year, which go to waste and are in most cases never recycled. 

However, the issue stretches far beyond the individual consumer habits. In September, thousands of volunteers across 51 countries participated in clean-ups, collecting 476,423 pieces of plastic waste. The audit, conducted by Break Free From Plastic, revealed that Coca-Cola is once again the biggest plastic polluter.

Although more than half of the products were unbranded, it remained evident who the most prominent polluters are.

Throwaway culture can be fatal for the future of the planet. The way we consume and the brands we support have to rapidly change to avoid greater damage. Refilling your water bottle can be the first step. 

The Refill app is available on the App Store and Google Play. 

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Originally appeared in 

Save the planet on the go

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