If you step on litter on your Sunday walk on an Irish beach, it’s most likely a plastic bottle. Plastic bottles are the most common form of litter on Irish coastlines. Hardly surprising once you know that a million plastic bottles are purchased around the world every minute. And it’s predicted this figure will rise by another 20% by 2021. Unless we bring about some significant changes.
Luckily, there are some great initiatives that have already done the hard work for us to come up with solutions. Like Refill Ireland. Refill aims to “substantially reduce the dependence on consuming our drinking water in single-use plastic bottles.” And thus, the amount of water bottles we buy and throw out.
Refill Ireland is led by a team of passionate volunteers, and their work is sorely needed here: while Ireland has some of the highest quality tap drinking water in the world, we have some of the fewest publicly available drinking water taps in our streets and parks, out of any country in Europe.
The goal of Refill is not just about getting more public refill stations up and running, the volunteer group also brings businesses and public places on board who already have what’s needed to refill a bottle: A water tap.
Refill has just joined ChangeX to help more communities to sign up to the initiative and ultimately help to free their streets, landscapes and beaches of plastic bottles.
Tramore is leading the Refill-way
The seaside town Tramore joined the Refill-mission only about 7 weeks ago. Since then nearly 50 businesses have committed to provide water bottle refills free of charge.
Bringing Refill to Tramore was a no-brainer for Ann Nolan. Ann is part of the Tramore Eco Group and together with 12 other volunteers, she is working towards the goal of becoming the first “Green” seaside town in Ireland.
All our members are passionate about what we are doing, we are from all different backgrounds, with the sole purpose of improving the environmental future for the next generation. The aim of our organisation is to involve our community, especially children in maintaining and improving the ecological environment of Tramore.
Besides many other topics the group is taking action on, fighting plastic pollution has been high on their to-do list for a while.
Especially in the summer months and on long weekends the bins along the beach are filling up quickly. The Council is doing a great job on staying on top of things but together with them and Tony Larking from Litter Free Nation we’re working on putting up extra bins just for plastic bottles now. We are also just planning our next beach clean ups together with Clean Coast.
But wouldn’t it be even better if the piles of plastic bottles weren’t produced in the first place? While researching solutions to take it one step further, Ann came across Refill.
I had seen this initiative in England, it was having great success, so I contacted them and they sent me on some window stickers.
The window stickers are the main resource you need to kick off Refill in a community. Just as a credit card sticker marks a place where you can pay with a credit card, the Refill sticker on a shop window or door marks a place where you can refill your water bottle for free. Ann just gave out the stickers while she was going about her daily business.
Because I was the one in the Tramore Eco Group receiving the stickers in the post, I would just always have them with me as I went into town and would approach the businesses at my ease or when I had the time.
Every business can take part, it’s not just about cafés and restaurants. Ann went to the dry cleaner, the library, the barber, the pharmacy. Everyone who has a water tap can become a Refiller and part of the local movement that reduces single-use plastic.
In Ann’s experience, it isn’t a hard pitch at all.
I have to say most people had a great attitude and interest in the environment and are ready for change. The damage plastic is causing to our seas, wildlife and environment is on the news and in the papers most days so people are very aware of what’s happening and want to do their bit. The response was really positive.
If people don’t want to take part, it’s rarely because they don’t want to support the issue. It’s rather because they are worried about the water quality running through their old pipes. Generally though, the water quality of Irish tap water is one of the best in the world.
There was also one business that felt there may be too many people calling in to the shop to have refills. That would be a dream actually. If that happens, we’ve done a great job. But we can tackle that problem once it happens.
The math for a community is simple here. The more businesses sign up, the more the service of refilling bottles will be shared and hopefully, no one needs to worry about queues of people waiting to fill their water bottles. And, as Ann says, this would be a dream scenario in some ways, demonstrating that people are changing their behaviours on a big scale, and would put pressure on local authorities to provide more public refill taps!
So far, 48 businesses have joined in Tramore, and numbers are growing quickly as Ann is making her rounds through town.
It has become even easier for me now to ask. It’s nice to be able to say, there are now 30, 40, 48 poeple on board. It sounds good. And now, people don’t want to be left out.
Bit by bit everyone in the community gets the opportunity to contribute their piece to reducing waste. It’s a simple action, that everyone can relate to and it unites the community behind the bigger goal of becoming the first “Green” seaside town in Ireland.
I was actually surprised, even the hotels, coffee shops or take-aways who sell water didn’t ask many questions. The concern about competition never came up. They were just happy to be asked and to be part of it.
In Tramore, the Refill-sticker might even slowly become the label for a business that is supporting environmental issues. And if it hasn’t become a marketing tool for the businesses yet, it sure has for the Tramore Eco group.
We tag the business on our FaceBook page when they come on board, we take a photo of the premises with the owner or an employee holding the Refill sticker. This has been great for our page as it also makes people aware of our Tramore Eco Group leading to an increase in numbers with our followers.
Now when you walk down the main street in Tramore it will be hard not to miss the blue stickers with the tap. The awareness of what it means will grow and along with it the confidence for people to ask for refills.
We won’t reduce the sales of single-use plastic water bottles to zero. But it’s good to give people the opportunity to ask ‘Would you mind topping me up?’, It’s good to give them the choice. And people can feel comfortable to ask.
Let’s make Ireland a tap water refill country
Imagine more communities across Ireland coming on board, armed with stickers and a belief in the impact every spared single-use water bottle has on our environment.
To get started with Refill and to get it up and running, you really need to believe in it yourself. There is no point in approaching businesses if you’re not convinced of the benefit yourself.
Start Refill in your community
Refill Ireland has teamed up with ChangeX to bring more communities onto the Refill map and mobilize people across Ireland to start refilling and offering refills. As always, we’ve pulled together a 5-step guide and you can register your community for this plastic-free initiative to appear on the Refill Map on ChangeX.