Mike Winter 29 October 2018

How local authorities can ditch plastic

In the UK, 38.5m plastic bottles are used every day – only just over half make it to recycling, while more than 16 million are put into landfill, burnt or leak into the environment and oceans each day.

The popularity of programmes highlighting the scale of the problem, such as the BBC’s ‘Blue Planet’, and their follow up this year focusing on plastics in particular, ‘Drowning in Plastic’ mean that the British public are demanding organisations take proactive steps to contribute to plastic waste reduction.

Local authorities have an important role to play in leading the way on ending our reliance on single-use plastic bottles, demonstrated by the rollout of public drinking water fountains and bottle refill stations by the mayor of London, GLA and the #OneLess campaign.

MIW Water Cooler Experts provided funding to jointly establish the London Drinking Fountain Fund with the GLA and #OneLess back in March, with the aim of reducing the capital’s reliance on plastic. The fund called on land and site owners across London to bid for a drinking water fountain. Bids were assessed by #OneLess and we supplied more than 30 fountains across the capital. The average London adult currently gets through 175 single-use plastic water bottles every year; adding up to one billion at the city-level. The problem will be on a comparable scale in every city in the UK.

A report released earlier this year by Keep Britain Tidy found that 78% of people in the UK would like there to be greater availability of free tap water. Local authorities can show their commitment to a plastic free future for their residents by providing free, filtered drinking water in a range of key areas with high footfall.

For example in London we’ve installed public fountains and refill stations in train stations, busy retail areas such as Carnaby Street, key leisure areas such as ZSL’s London Zoo, as well as public parks, community spaces, business districts and universities. As this year’s scorching summer demonstrated, it’s important that people are able to keep hydrated on the move without resorting to buying bottled water.

As the war on single use plastic escalates, authorities can track the number of bottles they’ve saved from ending up being bought and thrown away by using the device installed in the fountains and refill stations – this is an effective way of demonstrating the impact to residents and key stakeholders.

Some organisations initially express concerns about hygiene and vandalism risks in having public drinking water fountains installed, but today’s modern WRAS approved refill stations have come a long way from the Victorian fountains that used to fill our cities, they’re now robust, vandal-proof, hygienic and easy to maintain. Importantly they’re also specially designed to be accessible to wheelchair users.

If local authorities are planning new facilities, perhaps playgrounds or leisure centres, it’s essential that sustainability issues are considered and planned for right from the start. We work with architects and construction companies to ensure that drinking water provision is part of the design process for new buildings.

It’s great to see London lead the way in reinstating a public supply of drinking water - there’s no reason why more cities shouldn’t follow London’s example to help people stay refreshed on the go without damaging the planet.

We’d welcome discussions with local authorities to share best practice and our experience from a logistical perspective – with the ultimate aim of establishing a new culture of refilling rather than throwing away.

Mike Winter is CEO of MIW Water Cooler Experts

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