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Environment

You Can Refill Water Bottles for Free in UK Shops and Cafes from 2021

That plastic-free utopia we’re all dreaming of just got one step closer. 

From 2021, you should be able to refill your water bottle for free, thanks to a network of retailers and businesses spread across every major British city and town. 

It’s all part of an “ambitious drive” to cut down on the plastic bottles we use, according to industry body Water UK. 

Take action: Fight Waste to Protect Our Oceans

Water UK, which is spearheading the initiative, estimated that it could cut the use of plastic bottles by tens of millions every year. 

“This country has some of the best drinking water in the world and we want everyone to benefit from it,” said its chief executive, Michael Roberts, warning against a “harmful tide of plastic.” 

“This scheme will do that by making it easier for people to refill their bottles wherever they work, rest, shop, or play,” he added. “We are passionate about tackling the problems caused by plastic bottles, which clog up rivers and drains, and pollute our seas,”

Read more: This Major UK Supermarket Chain Just Pledged to Be Totally Plastic Free by 2023

Single-use plastic bottles suck, basically. They’re expensive to make, they use up valuable natural resources to make and transport, and they create mountains of waste once they’ve been used and thrown away. 

It’s estimated that of the 38.5 million plastic bottles used in the UK every day, just 50% are recycled. Meanwhile, around 16 million end up in landfill, being burnt, or entering the environment and waterways. 

The network is planned to include tens of thousands of free refill stations across the UK, including high street retailers, coffee shops, businesses, and local authorities.

And two high street names, Costa Coffee and Premier Inn — both owned by Whitbread — are about to jump the gun. 

Read more: How China's Shock Decision to Ban Recycled Plastic Is an 'Impending Crisis' for the UK

They’ve said that they will be providing free water from March 2018, including for passersby as well as customers, at all of their 3,000 locations. 

The idea is that people will be able to find the refill station or public drinking fountain nearest to them, either through an app or through window signs set up to direct people. 

The scheme is inspired by the success of the Refill campaign, which now has more than 1,600 refill stations across the UK. Under Refill, some local water companies are already providing free drinking water, including Anglian Water in Norwich, Northumbrian Water in Durham, South West Water in Cornwall, and Bristol Water in Bristol. 

Read more: The Long-Awaited Ban on Plastic Microbeads in the UK Is Finally Here

Plastic bottles have been described as “almost a flagship species for the wider issues of marine plastic pollution,” by the Environmental Audit Committee. 

The government is said to be considering other ways to cut down on plastic bottles, including a “deposit return scheme” where consumers could be charged a small amount more when buying a plastic bottle, which is then refunded when the bottle is returned to shops.

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