'Refill' Mobile App Has Wild Success Helping People Find Clean Tap Water

Similar to the state of California, many parts of the United Kingdom are looking to push out the use of disposable plastic bottles. A program called “Refill” is a simple movement that’s promoting people to, predictably, refill their water bottle instead of purchasing single-use bottles. They’ve released a mobile app to highlight areas to find clean tap water in their area.

The Refill app is a rewards program that was launched back in 2015 and has been very successful in England and Germany. According to a TreeHugger report, over “200 businesses in Bristol had signed on to the Refill campaign.” These establishments are easily found as they put up a blue Refill sticker on their doors. It’s a great answer for the limited public drinking fountains that are expensive to maintain.

Any type of service that has access to clean tap water can be part of the program. They’re encouraged to promote tap water even if that’s all consumers get while they stop by. However, it’s a win-win situation for both parties as it still gets people in the door and many will end up purchasing something else. According to the Refill website, “more than 70 percent of people...feel uncomfortable” just going into a cafe or a store to get free water.

If every establishment under the Refill umbrella gave one free bottle of water each day, roughly 73,000 less plastic bottles would be disposed of according to a report from The Guardian. Putting it another way, “if every Bristolian refilled once a week instead of buying a single-use plastic bottle, the city would reduce its waste plastic bottle consumption by 22.3 million a year.”

Even without the Refill program, bars and restaurants located in much of the UK legally needs to provide free drinking water. While they can optionally charge for the use of a glass, anybody that brings in a reusable water bottle can get it refilled without a charge. Still, that tends to make consumers uncomfortable. 

Making it worse, only 25 percent of people know they can get tap water for free, and not many restaurants, bars, or cafes even have the option on their menus. The Refill sticker on these establishments are an attempt to make it less awkward for those that are looking for a better way to retrieve fresh water.

Other studies by the Refill program show that 65 percent of people they surveyed would buy bottled water if they knew it was more freely available, and just 1 in 10 will enter an establishment to get a refill. 64 percent of people that are out and about don’t carry a reusable bottle and slightly over half of people don’t use public water fountains because they worry about cleanliness.

In order to get people on the right track, those that use the Refill app will get points every time. Eventually, enough points will rack up for people to obtain a stainless steel water bottle. This is a better alternative than reusable plastic bottles. The main issue for the latter is chemicals like Bisphenol A (BPA) from the plastic getting into the water. BPA-free plastic can still be harmful based on studies from UCLA.

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