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Sustainability Sunday #72

Water for all!

The global issues surrounding water is something we’re all getting a little more educated around. We know that the enormous volume of plastic water bottles we buy and discard globally is appalling, we know that there are still nations across our world without access to clean water and we know that in the western world our tap water is full of microbeads. It’s a pretty depressing situation, so this week I want to focus on the positives, more specifically the spread of free water fountains popping up in a number of cities to help people re-fill rather than replace their water bottles.

Last week, Sadiq Khan unveiled the first free water fountain in London, part of a pilot to combat single-use plastic. This first fountain is on Carnaby Street in the West End and the next two will be at Liverpool Street and Flat Iron Square in Southwark. By the end of the year there will be 20 across the city. The locations of the next phase of fountain installations will be open to applications from boroughs and communities who have until 24th April to bid for a fountain in their area.

“To get a grip on needless plastic waste, we need to provide simple ways of refilling and accessing free water, and water fountains are the much-needed solution.” says Sadiq.

London is not the only city to install water fountains to tackle the single-use plastic problem:

In Rome there are hundreds of water fountains, all with a fresh, cold supply from an ancient Roman aqueduct which makes it feel pretty special. As there’s so many you’re likely to spot them easily but there’s also an app (I Nasoni di Roma) to help you find them!

In Copenhagen, there have been over 60 fountains installed over the last few years. Copenhagen is committed to being the first carbon neutral city in the world and their war against single-use plastic bottles is just a small part of this. With a mix of permanent and temporary seasonal fountains they’re easy to spot and have been carefully designed to be in-keeping with the city’s aesthetics.

In New York City there is a plan for 500 public drinking fountains to be installed between 2015 and 2025 in the highest footfall areas of each borough. NYC opened their first public water fountain in 1859 and one subsequent issue of the New York Times stated that they hoped water fountains would “one day be so numerous that they cease to be a subject of remark.” Amen to that.

In Paris, you can find almost as many fountains as in Rome. The history of the Parisian water fountains is an interesting one, after the Franco-Prussian war when the city was under siege, clean water was hard to come by so the poor resorted to alcohol when thirsty. It was actually an Englishman, Richard Wallace, who designed and financed the installation of the Paris fountains so remedy the poor access and epidemic of alcoholism. Being French, of course they must go above and beyond right? Well, at the end of last year officials in Paris committed to the installation of a fizzy water fountain in each of the city’s arrondissements! How glam?! But a point well made as almost everywhere you can buy a plastic bottle of still water you can buy a plastic bottle of carbonated water too.

We can learn a lot from the success and culture of water fountains in these cities and I hope the people of London will embrace the privilege of having access to free drinking water and encourage more widespread locations for the fountains. It seems that some businesses like Pret A Manger, who are pretty pioneering for a high street chain, are taking on the battle too bringing in glass bottles and water fountains of their own so the convenience of refilling your bottle may start to overtake the convenience of buying a bottle, fingers crossed 🤞🏼

Also just in! The UK government have announced a new drinks container return scheme where plastic, glass and metal vessels can be returned to retailers for a small cash sum. Retailers will then be responsible for recycling the empties responsibly. This kind of system already operates in 38 countries (I can remember being 9 years old on holiday in the Netherlands – which is a scary 18 years ago – returning bottles for coins). What’s that saying? “Where there’s an incentive there’s a way…”

Oh, and before I forget, Happy Easter! 🐣

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