We all know that we should drink plenty of water to stay healthy and energised. But busy lives and drinking on the go often means buying single use plastic water bottles. These then end up in landfill and in our oceans, causing problems for the environment and for sea life.
If more of us used refillable bottles we would be championing our health as well as the planet. But what can our cities do to support this movement? How can they encourage city dwellers to be healthy whilst being more environmentally friendly?
Plastic – Not so Fantastic
Thanks to the BBC’s Blue Planet II, narrated by national treasure David Attenborough, there’s been a lot of attention on our seas. In particular, the amount of plastic waste being dumped in our oceans.
Those behind the series said there was barely a time during filming when they didn’t come across plastic in the sea. Around eight million tonnes of plastic enters the ocean every year. And according to the One Less Bottle project, it remains there for “hundreds or even thousands of years.”
There are obvious impacts of this on sea life. Fish and other sea creatures can become entangled in fishing nets and packaging. If they can’t swim to find food or escape prey, this has serious consequences. And there are the less obvious impacts too. Broken down plastic affects the deepest sea dwelling organisms.
A recent study from Newcastle University found that even fish living ten kilometres below the surface didn’t escape the onslaught of plastic. Their shocking conclusion was that “once plastics reach the deep-seafloor there is nowhere else for them to go. So it’s assumed they will simply accumulate in greater quantities.” Small fish eat these ‘microplastics’ as they break down into smaller pieces. Those fish are then eaten by bigger fish and so on, eventually reaching our own food chain.
London’s Mayor Joins the Fight
It’s clear then, that something needs to be done. Reducing and recycling single use plastic seems an obvious place to start.
Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has recently published his London Environment Strategy, which highlights the increasing problem of single use plastics. It’s estimated that over 40 million plastic cups are thrown away each year in London. The majority of which are not recycled. Instead they’re sent to landfill or incineration.
The London Sustainability Exchange are one company who want to see change. They’re working with Wessex Water to shift consumption from bottled to tap water in East London. They found that the UK bottled water industry has grown massively in the last twenty years. From 580 million litres a year, to almost 2.1 billion litres!
Only one in three plastic bottles are currently recycled. This creates a lot of unnecessary waste, given we’re lucky enough to have drinkable tap water. The problem is easy access to water around the city. We’re fine at home or at work, but drinking fountains out and about are still a rare sight.
Water for London – Kickstarting the #RefillRevolution
According to Water for London, 3.5 million people use the London tube network each day. But there are only a handful of stations that offer water fountains or refilling points.
At the same time, it’s estimated that 74% of litter in the river Thames in London is food and drink related. And with London’s population nearing nine million, action needs to be taken.
Water for London want to tackle this problem of food and drink litter. They’re running a campaign to install drinking fountains across the TFL tube network. It’s run by a group of passionate volunteers. They say that placing water fountains across the tube, train and bus network is an obvious place to start.
By providing an easily accessible place for people to refill their bottles, it would help normalise the idea. A YouGov poll even found that 62% of people would drink more tap water if it was more readily available.
Water for London are asking the public to sign a petition to urge the Mayor to fund public water fountains. They hope it will urge him to follow through on his plans to cut back on plastic waste.
More Ways to Build a Sustainable City
London’s Borough Market has pledged to become the UK’s ‘greenest place to shop’. It’s adding free water drinking fountains around the market. In six months it hopes to have phased out the sale of single-use plastic bottles. It’s also aiming to introduce biodegradable packing and compost bins for food waste.
London’s Mayor has proposed to support further environmental campaigns, especially those aimed at cutting use of disposable coffee cups and plastic bottles. He committed to investigate the practicalities of a deposit return system, which have been successfully implemented in Germany and Australia. He has also proposed to improve access to tap water through community refill systems.
For Fish’s Sake (#FFSLDN) is a group led by Hubbub and supported by the Port of London Authority. They’re encouraging London residents, commuters and visitors to think twice about litter, in a bid to stem the flow of litter into the Thames.
They campaign along the river, talking to passersby. Hubbub want us all to not only use bins, but to pick up litter if we’re near a bin, and take our litter home if nearby bins are full. They say smaller pieces of litter like receipts and napkins are less likely to make it to the bin, and often end up in the water.
We’re in This Together
We can all do our bit to combat this problem. Starting with investing in reusable drinks containers. Whether it’s for our morning coffee or to hit our two litres of water a day.
Recycling at home or at work is one thing. We must remember to do the same when we’re out shopping or travelling. To truly work, recycling needs to take place everywhere.
We can also get behind campaigns that encourage cutting back on single-use plastics. Whether that means signing petitions, writing to your MP, or getting out campaigning ourselves!
Will London lead the way on making our cities sustainable in the future? Only time will tell, but we truly hope so.