World Refill Day: Mayor of London taps into London’s ambition to ditch its 1 billion single-use plastic water bottle usage

The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is ramping up his campaign with environmental charity and behaviour change experts, City to Sea, to tap into Londoners’ desire to quit their single-use plastic bottle use.

Exclusive new research released by City to Sea for World Refill Day (16th June) shows both the level of consumption of single-use plastic water bottles in the capital, but also the desire of millions of Londoners to ditch single-use plastics.

The survey found that Londoners reported purchasing over 1 billion single-use plastic water bottles a year; with 3 in 20 (16%) purchasing at least 1 single-use plastic water bottle a week, 1 in 4 (25%) purchasing at least 2-3 bottles a week, and 3 in 20 (16%) consuming 4-6 bottles a week. 14% of people surveyed reported consuming at least 1 single-use plastic water bottle every single day – that equates to a massive 1.39 million Londoners!

The good news is that the research also suggested 63% of people in London have said they would stop buying bottled water if there was guaranteed access to free tap water and opportunities to fill up a reusable water bottle – something both the Mayor and City to Sea are looking to directly address. In addition, over 90% of Londoners reported already sometimes or always carrying a reusable water bottle.

In 2018 the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, joined forces with environmental not-for-profit City to Sea to launch Refill London, which saw hundreds of the capital’s shops, cafes and local businesses provide free water refills. This was crucial as research had shown that water bottles were the main form of plastic pollution with over half of the plastic drink bottles found in the River Thames coming from single-use plastic water bottles.

Since then, the campaign has grown across the city with more than 4,000 locations where Londoners and visitors alike can refill their water bottles for free. All locations can be found on City to Sea’s award-winning free Refill app. In 2020, the Refill campaign expanded beyond drinking water and now connects users to places they can eat, drink and shop without plastic, helping even more people around the world live with less waste. This summer, the Mayor is backing a city-wide campaign to get even more Londoners to cut plastic pollution and to choose reuse over single-use.

On World Refill Day, 16th June, residents and visitors to London will be met with advertising around the city at key sites including London terminals and London Westfield shopping centres, encouraging them to remember to refill their water bottles whilst on-the-go, and signposting them to download the free Refill app to find places across the city they can refill for free.

Commenting, Deputy Mayor for Environment, Shirley Rodrigues said: “The Mayor is committed to building a cleaner, greener city for all Londoners. This means tackling harmful plastic pollution that damages our rivers and wildlife and finds its way into oceans. World Refill Day is an important reminder that all Londoners and visitors to the capital can play their part in ditching single-use plastic bottles.

“Through Refill London we now have more 4,000 cafes, restaurants and pubs offering free refills to help more people top up on the go. This is in addition to the network of drinking fountains the Mayor has supported across London. As London prepares for an exciting and busy summer, we urge everyone to download the Refill app and remember to carry a reusable bottle.”

The aim of the campaign is to restore public confidence that free drinking water is accessible across the city and to raise awareness of the locations of places people can refill in London. When exploring why people chose to not use reusable water bottles, the new research found that embarrassment was a key factor with 25% of Londoners saying they felt uncomfortable asking businesses for water without making a purchase. Significantly, this rose dramatically for older segments of the population with 44% of over 55 women reporting feeling uncomfortable when asking for free tap water when not making a purchase compared to older men in the same situation (29%). For younger demographics (18-34) were more likely to state that ‘not finding a refill station’ was a reason for buying single-use plastic water bottles.

This summer’s campaign looks to directly address these concerns by highlighting the availability of places to access free drinking water and to reassure the public that wherever they see the Refill window sticker, they know they can go in and ask for a refill. The same goes for any business listed on the Refill app. City to Sea report that this both eases the sense of embarrassment some customers might feel but also ‘reassures’ the younger demographic that they are never far from a place to refill their water bottles.

Natalie Fee, CEO and Founder of City to Sea commented:

“Our research revealed that 71% of Londoners are buying at least one single-use plastic bottle a week – yet they’d rather not be! People would rather avoid plastic waste and save money, which is what the Refill campaign is helping them to do, by connecting them to unlimited, free refills across the city, with some of the safest drinking water in the world. By carrying a reusable water bottle and refilling on the go using the free Refill app, Londoners can save money, stay hydrated and prevent plastic pollution. It’s a win for both our bank balances and the environment”.

She continued, “We know that Londoners are concerned about plastic pollution and want to do more to live with less plastic. With more than 4000+ locations across the city where people can fill up for free, the Refill app puts the power to go plastic-free at our fingertips. After nearly a decade of running the Refill campaign, we know what works and what doesn’t. We know a simple act like putting a sticker in a coffee shop window saying “free drinking water here” is enough to make passers-by feel more comfortable about going into a shop and asking for a free refill. We also know that we need to keep spreading the word so that Londoners are aware that in any of London’s 33 boroughs, they’ll be a stone’s throw away from somewhere that they can refill. The Mayor’s leadership is incredibly important for behaviour change, not only to promote the availability of water refills but also to normalise the behaviour as well.”

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