Plastic bottles: Free water refill points rolled out to cut waste

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Shops, cafes and businesses will offer free water refill points in every major city and town in England by 2021.

Industry body Water UK says its scheme could cut disposable plastic bottle use by tens of millions a year.

The move comes amid growing concern about the effect of plastic waste on the environment.

Whitbread, which owns Costa Coffee and Premier Inn, is the first to sign up to the initiative and will provide water in all of its branches from March 2018.

Refill stations and public fountains will be able to be found via an app or window signs pointing people in the direction of the nearest one.

media captionA giant build-up of plastic was captured by underwater photographer Caroline Power

The new scheme has been set up on the back of a previous initiative, the Refill campaign, which currently has more than 1,600 refill stations across the UK and operates in 13 towns and cities in England.

Water companies already taking part in local schemes under Refill include Anglian Water in Norwich, Northumbrian Water in Durham, South West Water in Cornwall and Bristol Water in Bristol.

'Make refilling easy'

In 2015, Bristol adopted the campaign and the city now has more than 200 points.

It is estimated that if every city resident in Bristol refilled one bottle once a week, the city could cut the use of disposable bottles by 22.3 million a year.

In December, London mayor Sadiq Khan pledged to create 20 new fountains and other bottle-refill points in the city.

Water UK's chief executive, Michael Roberts, said the industry wants to tackle the problems caused by plastic bottle and "help turn this harmful tide of plastic waste".

"This country has some of the best drinking water in the world and we want everyone to benefit from it.

"This scheme will do that by making it easier for people to refill their bottles wherever they work, rest, shop or play."

The issue of plastic waste has also been highlighted by the BBC's Blue Planet II.

Analysis by BBC Reality Check

Making it easier for people to refill water bottles instead of buying single-use ones is squarely on the agenda, with support from Environment Secretary Michael Gove and the Mayor of London.

But there are no figures to show how many working drinking fountains there are across the UK.

Installing them is a local responsibility. The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, says it doesn't hold data on the number of drinking fountains.

Water UK, which will run the free water refill scheme, also could not provide figures.

The Drinking Fountain Association, founded as the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association in 1959, owns 2,406 fountains in England, but the vast majority of these aren't working fountains - they are historic monuments.

Hundreds of drinking fountains were installed in the Victorian times to promote public health - and as part of the temperance movement, with many being stationed outside pubs.

The advent of bottled water in the 1980s among other things pushed the need for drinking fountains down council priority lists.

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