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Refill and Water UK: reflections on a successful partnership

This is a guest blog from Rebecca Burgess, Chief Executive of City to Sea. Rebecca looks back on the growth of the Refill campaign and a successful partnership with Water UK.

In 2018, Water UK united the water industry across England behind a common cause: to help prevent plastic pollution at source and increase the availability of free drinking water on-the-go. Together, they became founding partners of City to Sea’s Refill Campaign.

As part of the water industry’s Public Interest Commitment, we worked together with Water UK and the water companies across England to scale-up community action on plastic, increasing accessibility of plastic free drinking water on-the-go by signing up tens of thousands of Refill Stations and installing new water refill points in high-footfall areas across the UK.

Thanks to this collaborative effort, over the last three years Refill has grown from a grassroots campaign to an award-winning campaign, which is now expanding across the globe thanks to the example first set here in the UK. As a result of this partnership, we’ve grown Refill app downloads to 315,000 and the number of Refill stations has increased more than twenty-fold from 1,500 at the start of our partnership to more than 30,000 today fulfilling our commitment with Water UK.

Public awareness of the app and campaign has grown considerably in this time, reaching over 70 million on National Refill Day in 2019 alone with the help of all the water companies across England. It is estimated that the Refill campaign has prevented the equivalent of over 150 million plastic water bottles from entering our waste stream.

Partnerships such as this have played a significant role in shifting public perception and consumer behaviour towards reuse and refill models, with 66% of people saying knowledge of the Refill campaign made them more likely to carry a reusable bottle[1]. By increasing the accessibility of free drinking water on-the-go and increasing visibility of where you can refill by displaying Refill window stickers across thousands of high street Refill Stations, we’ve helped to break down some of the barriers towards refilling and make it easier for more people to say no to single-use.

The support we’ve seen from water companies, creating water bars and supporting local events has enabled the public access to refillable, plastic-free drinking water and significantly reduce the plastic pollution often caused by mass-participation events.

Despite having some of the best quality drinking water in the world, 1 in 3 people in the UK still buy bottled water to drink at home.1 Northumbrian Water and Bristol Water have recently supported City to Sea in a qualitative research project to better understand the reasons behind this behaviour. City to Sea plan to use this insight to influence further behaviour change, addressing barriers to tap water and ultimately continue to reduce plastic bottled water consumption both at home and on-the-go.

We’re incredibly grateful to Water UK and all the water companies in England for their valued support over the last three years. Together, alongside over 30,000 forward thinking businesses, we’ve encouraged millions of Brits to refill their water bottles instead of buying a single use plastic water bottle. Sadly, we know the issue of plastic pollution is far greater than water bottles and in October 2020, we expanded the campaign to connect consumers with places they can eat, drink and shop without the pointless packaging. Anyone can download the free Refill app to tap into a global network of places to reduce, reuse and refill. From a coffee on your commute, to drinking water on the go, or even shopping with less plastic, Refill puts the power to go packaging free at your fingertips.

Now more than ever all of us need to act to stop the flow of plastics polluting our extraordinary planet and harming our much-loved wildlife.