Plastic has been a pretty hot topic in the UK in the past few weeks. A recent Guardian article stated that 38.5 million plastic bottles are purchased in the United Kingdom every day, and just over half of them are recycled. About 16 million end up in landfills, burned or get into the environment and oceans each day. The high use of single use plastic bottles has led to an increase in plastics getting into the environment and having significant impacts on the health of ecosystems and the animals that live within it.
In an attempt to curb and ultimately eliminate this unsustainable behaviour, there is a rise of initiatives that aims to raise awareness about plastic pollution and shift behaviours to encourage people buy and use less plastic. The Refill scheme, which started in Bristol, is one successful initiative that is striving to reduce the use of plastic bottles around the city. Starting in 2015, the Refill scheme lead by environmental charity City to Sea, is one of a few projects they started targeting the use of plastics in households and raising awareness about the impact of plastic in our ecosystems. City to Sea started when founder Natalie Fee noticed the high levels of plastic floating down the river in Bristol. This spurred the launch of the ‘Switch the Stick’ campaign and the Refill scheme in hopes to reduce the amount of plastics that are ending up in the rivers and oceans.
One of their most successful projects is the Refill initiative, which started in Bristol and has now spread across the UK. As outlined on the Refill website, “Refill is a national, practical tap water campaign that aims to make refilling your bottle as easy, convenient and cheap as possible by introducing refill point on every street”. Essentially how it works is that participating restaurants, bars, museums, cafes and other businesses put a Refill sticker on their window, which lets passers-by that they are able to go in and fill up their reusable water bottle free of charge. And to make it even easier to find a refill point, the Refill app includes an interactive map to view all 200+ locations across Bristol and around the country. The launch of the initiative coincided with the year Bristol was the European Green Capital. The European Green Capital award is intended to motivate European cities to take action to achieve a more sustainable and healthy environment.
And the movement is spreading! Refill project is now in Dumfries and Galloway, Dorset, Cornwall, Brighton and Hove, Bath, Devon and a few other areas in the UK. The no plastic movement has even made its way to London, with Mayor Sadiq Khan announcing that he and his team are looking for ways to pilot a water refill scheme. This news comes following the announcement that London’s Borough Market plans to phase out plastic water bottle sales and introduce free water fountains. Borough Market has pledged to make packaging used by its traders biodegradable and compostable, in aims to achieve their zero waste to landfill target.
And now more than ever, the UK has to think about ways to reduce and deal with plastic since it was announced that China will no longer be accepting the recycling produced here. Data from Greenpeace indicates that British companies have sent over 2.7 million tonnes of plastic to Hong Kong and China since 2012. Theresa May and her team are trying to determine methods to deal with the abundance of plastic waste (incineration is a considered option, despite environmental impacts….) and encourage a shift in behaviour to get individuals and families to use less plastic. There is even speculation of a 5p tax on plastic water bottles in order to encourage uptake of schemes such as Refill.
The word is spreading: plastic is having a significant impact on our environment and we need to do more to stop that from happening. Increasing the availability of free drinking fountains can help challenge barriers, which lead people to buy single use water bottles instead of carrying their own reusable one. We can only hope that through raising awareness about the impact of plastic pollution through documentaries such as A Plastic Ocean, Garbage Island and Blue Planet, we can inevitably shift behaviour by encouraging and making sustainable options more readily available.
Aisha Stewart is an aspiring adult, currently hiding from all responsibilities in Bristol, England. She enjoys spending her time helping out in the community, reading a book or finding ways to effectively encourage sustainable behaviours. Follow her on Twitter, or LinkIn with her.