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New Water 'Refill' Stations Encourage People To Ditch Plastic For Free

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May. 25 2019, Updated 8:03 p.m. ET

Officials and environmental activists have been hotly contesting how best to approach waste disposal in the United Kingdom; lately there have been heated discussion over a proposed "latte levy," which would charge customers extra money if they used a disposable cup at a coffee shop.

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What brought this on? Like most developed countries, Britain has a problem with producing garbage. A lot of that garbage is plastic, a material that is currently clogging our oceans and threatening to overtake fish as a maritime inhabitant. For perspective, consumers in the U.K. use about 38.5 million plastic bottles every day, and only half of those are recycled.

Fast Company reports that an initiative called 'Refill' is working to limit plastic plastic waste, starting in the city of Bristol. Refill began in 2015, partnering with 200 locations in the first two months. They now have "refill stations" in 1,600 businesses across the U.K., as well as locations in European cities like Hamburg and Berlin.

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The idea behind Refill is pretty simple: give people a place where they can reliably refill their reusable water bottle, and they'll use it instead of purchasing bottled water. That means less plastic waste.

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According to law, any bar, theater or restaurant is required to provide “free potable water” upon request. The issue has been that the British are entirely too polite to ask. Locations associated with Refill get a sticker they post on the window the facility that gives thirsty people the extra push they need to come in and get that legally sanctioned liquid. Refill was implemented by an organization called City to Sea, as a way to help people get over preconceived notions about the convenience of reusable bottles, according to their founder, Natalie Fee.

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“It’s communicating the message that you don’t have to carry a heavy water bottle around with you,” Fee told Fast Company. “You can leave the house with a small, compact, refillable bottle and just fill it up as you go.”

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Legislators have also been encouraged to promote outdoor water sources, and plans have been implemented to add 2o more public drinking fountains. “Seeing water fountains everywhere and seeing people queue up to use them really makes it normal,” explained Fee. “When people are used to seeing people refilling, that just adds to the culture of reuse.”

The success of the Refill program has encouraged other nations to consider their water access—cities in the U.S. have reached out to City to Sea about it, like New York and San Francisco, where efforts to repair old water stations are already in gear. People are thirsty for solutions, and they've got bottles to fill.

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