How one campaign is saving over 100 million plastic bottles every year

Environmental Charity ‘City to Sea‘ marked World Water Day (22nd March) by urging politicians, companies and the public to help reduce plastic pollution by joining their award-winning Refill campaign in an effort to help tackle the billions of single-use plastic water bottles used in the UK every year. The campaign already saves over 100 million plastic bottles a year. 

  • Around 14 billion plastic bottles were estimated to be used in the UK in 2018 

  • Billions of these are plastic water bottles – 7.7 billion it was estimated in 2017  

  • Takeaway sales for February 2022 were 131% higher than pre-pandemic levels 

  • Every single day, it’s been estimated that around 16 million plastic bottles in the UK are not recycled, which means they will end up in landfills, incinerators or our natural environment.  

  • City to Sea estimates that if 1 in 10 Brits refilled just once a week around 340 million plastic bottles a year would be saved. 

These bottles result in needless waste that blights our environment and threatens our wildlife: they are one of the most commonly found, identifiable plastics on UK beaches. It is thought these sales have only increased with food and drink takeaway sales for February 2022 131% higher than pre-pandemic levels. 

City to Sea runs the award-winning Refill Campaign which shows hundreds of thousands of places across the UK where people can refill their water bottles for free. The campaign that started in Bristol in 2015 is now saving an estimated 100 million plastic bottles every year.   

City to Sea for World Water Day is urging politicians, companies and individuals to play their part in reducing the impact of plastic water bottles by: 

Joining the “Refill Revolution” 

Refilling water bottles can play a major part in reducing the problem. Consumers and businesses alike can use City to Sea’s free Refill app . The ground-breaking app’s geo-located database offers hundreds of thousands of places where people can refill their water bottles when they are out and about in the UK, and it is now expanding to cover countries around the world after being translated into 8 languages.   

City to Sea estimates that if 1 in 10 Brits refilled just once a week around 340 million plastic bottles a year would be saved. Research by City to Sea, undertaken by One Poll, found that the number of people who normally drink tap water on-the-go has increased from 1 in every 5 people to 1 in 2 people since the Refill campaign started in 2015. It also found that 65% of people are more likely to carry a reusable bottle as a result of knowing about the Refill campaign. This means 15 million people in the UK are more likely to carry a reusable water bottle as a direct result of the Refill campaign.  

UK drinking water is of the highest standard, and among the best in the world. 

• Increase drinking water fountains and water refill locations 

Local authorities, transport hubs and businesses can all play their part in the expansion of water fountains and water refill facilities to make it easier for people to refill their water bottles when they are out and about – and save money. 

City to Sea has produced a comprehensive tool kit that provides a step-by-step guide on how to safely install water fountains. 

The inclusion of all sizes of plastic bottles in a comprehensive Deposit Return Scheme to boost recycling   

As part of the Environment Act a Deposit Return Scheme for England, which is due to begin in 2024, is expected to be consulted on soon.  City to Sea is calling for the government to introduce an ‘all in’ scheme that includes all plastic drinks containers of all sizes – as well as glass bottles, aluminium cans and cartons that offers a greater incentive for reuse than recycling.  

While the introduction of a DRS scheme is welcome, it is important that waste reduction measures are not ignored. More must be done to cut waste in the first place and boost refill and re-use. 

The government to set new laws to drastically reduce plastic pollution 

City to Sea have joined forces with environmental groups Friends of the Earth and Keep Britain Tidy to write to the Environment Minister calling on the government to include legally-binding targets to reduce plastic pollution in its flagship Environment Act. 

New targets will be set as part of the Environment Act in the coming months. City to Sea, Friends of the Earth and Keep Britain Tidy are calling on the government to seize this historic opportunity to set overarching plastics reduction targets that truly turn the tide on plastic pollution.  

The environmentalists are jointly calling for:

  • An at least a 50% reduction in non-essential single-use plastics by 2025.
  • An overarching plastics reduction target, including but not limited to single-use plastics. This would ensure a progressive reduction in the overall use of all nonessential plastics, building towards preventing plastic pollution of the environment as far as possible by 2042. This must include addressing those harder to tackle plastics from vehicles tyres and brakes and from clothes among others, and the specific problem of micro and nanoplastics.
  • Reuse targets of at least 25% of packaging being reusable by 2025, rising to 50% by 2030. This would guarantee that a large proportion of the reduction in plastic pollution is met by an increase in the market share of reusables, and make sure substitutions of single-use plastics for other damaging single-use materials are avoided.

Steve Hynd, City to Sea’s Policy Manager said:  

“We are awash with plastic bottles littering our streets, beaches and oceans. Single-use plastic water bottles now make up over half of all plastic bottle sales in the UK. And we’ve seen a wave of plastic pollution come through changing consumer habits during the pandemic and now is the time to look to change our ways.  

“Although there are measures in the pipeline that will start to address this, like the long-promised deposit return scheme, we are today urging government, businesses and consumers to step up and do what they can immediately. 

“This means urgently putting in more public water fountains, all businesses with public fronts who can offer free water refills doing so and signing up to the Refill app and, crucially, we need more consumers to start carrying a water bottle so that they can Refill on the go instead of buying single-use bottles. Change is happening, in law, by business and in consumer behaviour, but we need everyone to be pushing for more to happen faster if we are to tackle the flood of plastic we currently see polluting our natural environment.” 

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