Natalie Fee, 38, is the driving force behind City to Sea which has launched a campaign that aims to cut the millions of plastic bottles that end up in the world’s oceans each year.
The Refill campaign persuades businesses to sign up to a scheme allowing people to refill their water bottles on their premises rather than throw them away.
A Refill app shows which businesses nearby are happy to fill water bottles. The app offers reward points when people fill up their bottle, which can be redeemed to earn a stainless steel water bottle. The longer-term ambition is that users will be able to translate points into vouchers for ethically produced clothes and equipment – and even be informed about traders who avoid plastic waste.
Since its launch in 2015, more than 200 cafes and businesses in Bristol have signed up to the scheme that lets you refill your water bottles for free. Now towns and cities across the UK and Europe are joining.
The movement has spread to Dorset, Devon and Bath. Norwich and Brighton are close to launching, and Hull, Leeds and Manchester are among other UK cities that have expressed an interest.
After Bristol was named European Green Capital in 2015, the Refill campaign was promoted as a “legacy project” and now sister schemes have launched in Hamburg, Bonn and other German cities.
“All we are doing is linking people who want water with businesses and organisations who have taps and are happy for them to be used, but it has really taken off,” Fee said.
The UK campaign calculates that if every Refill station in Bristol performed just one refill everyday, 73,000 fewer plastic bottles would be thrown away every year in Bristol alone. If every Bristolian refilled once a week instead of buying a single-use plastic bottle, the city would reduce its waste plastic bottle consumption by 22.3m a year.
Fee and her team are determined to stop hoards of plastic from ending up at the bottom of the sea and have turned their attention to as many as three more campaigns. These include, ‘Switch the Stick’ a project which has resulted in all major UK retailers pledging to phase out plastic-stemmed cotton buds and ‘Unflushables’ which is educating people on what should or should not be flushed down the toilet.
To add to this growing list is ‘Don’t Believe The Wipe!’, another project tackling the amount of wipes and sanitary products which end up floating around in the sea and wash up on our beaches.
“We’ve still got a long way to go to get people in the habit of refilling and refusing single-use. But it feels like things are changing, that there is an appetite to do things differently.”