If you’re reading this, you probably already hate plastic bottles. I think by this point even those of us who aren’t particularly environmentally conscious have seen the images of beaches covered in litter and animals with stomachs full of the stuff. It’s disgusting, it’s upsetting and it’s frustrating. However the good news is that, at least for some plastics, there are actually really simple solutions to decrease how much of this material we bring into the world. One of the biggest problems that’s also the easiest to change? Bottled water.

Bottled water is a fairly recent phenomenon, and people were surviving on tap water before bottles just fine. Bottled water was literally invented by big business in the 1970s, and tap water is generally better quality and performs better in blind taste testing. Currently Britain consumes around 3 billion litres of bottled water per year, and most of those bottles are made with virgin (not recycled) plastic. London buys the most of all, spending an average of  7.7bn a year on the stuff instead of just getting it from home for virtually nothing.

But now there’s a campaign to change things, and it needs your support.

I spoke to Will from the Water For London campaign to learn more about this important issue, and what they want to see done. Their goal is to see a network of drinking fountains and refillable water stations installed across the entire Transport for London network, so that people can refill their own bottles from home on the go.

How did the campaign start?

I started the campaign in September last year – I had the privilege of spending the previous 12 months on a career break; I visited a lot of places, met wonderful people, and tried lots of new experiences. Unfortunately there was one not so positive thing that I witnessed pretty much everywhere on my travels: plastic bottle waste. From the beaches of Costa Rica, the reefs of the Caribbean, the Islands of Greece, the mountains of Poland and the streets of cities I visited.

Working in sustainability for the last 10 years, I’d been aware of the issues from afar, however coming face-to-face with the ocean plastic issue became very visceral and created a passion to take action and harness that energy to act in a positive way to do something about it.

Also on my my travels I saw freely and readily available water refill stations and fountains across various cities – places to refill my bottle that came with me everywhere on my travels. Airports, bus and train stations, parks, public squares… the public provision and visual nature seemed to normalise a refill culture and people had an obvious place to access free tap water whilst on the go.

I thought why doesn’t London have this? What do commuters, tourists, people that work, live and play in London do for water on the go?

I put the two together and the campaign was born: a campaign to get public water refill stations and fountains installed across London, the city I was returning to.

Research confirmed my thoughts and refined my thinking – that there is currently no water provision at any TfL or train stations, and thirsty people need to purchase expensive water in single-use plastic bottles. The alternatives were non-existent. After further research a petition was born targeting the Mayor of London and Transport for London to install bottle refill stations at every tube, train, tram, bus and boat station they operate so people in London have some to go to get water without the plastic. 

How is the campaign going?

The campaign quickly gathered momentum, forging links with SumofUs that helped get the message out to their supporters. Quickly a number of friends and supporters wanted to get involved somehow, to contribute and help push for the installation of the water refill points. From there we formed a volunteer group that meet monthly to help coordinate the campaign activities.

Our general activities are:

  • Building public support to help build pressure on the Mayor of London through the petitions and social media (website on its way)
  • Building a coalition of supporters
  • Directly engaging the Mayor, the GLA, TfL and Thames Water to encourage them to meet our campaign asks (and break down the barriers they put up)

Currently, the campaign petitions have 17.5k signatures across the 2 platforms and recently it seems like the Mayor has been listening to the public support as he announced the good news that a pilot scheme of refill stations will be starting this summer.

We’re treating this as partial success. It’s good news but we want to push the Mayor to go further than the 20 fountains announced. There are over 500 tube, train, bus, tram and Thames Clipper stations operated by TfL, all with multiple entrances!

Although this is a start, 20 fountains is equal to roughly one fountain per 500 thousand people, which is one heck of a disparity (I can already imagine the nightmare queues). So now it is up to us to keep the momentum going, and hopefully we can rid London of unnecessary bottled water.

For now, the focus is on continuing to up the pressure on TfL because the more people that want it, the harder it is to refuse.

You can make your voice heard by signing the petition here

On top of that, make sure to follow Water For London on social media, where you can be kept up to date with the latest developments.