A DREAM WAS BORN

Being raised on a houseboat in Amsterdam with an average annual amount of 182 rainy days, I’m very much used to water. Clean water. All my life I used to drink tap water without even thinking about it. How different from most places in the world! This became clear during my travels in South-East Asia in 2010. My dream to start Refill Ambassadors was born on this trip.

DAILY ROUTINE

On my first day, I arrived in Hanoi where Nick (my boyfriend at the time) was waiting for me.

N: ‘How was your flight? Can I get you something?’

H: ‘Yes, water please.’

N: ‘Cool I’ll get you a bottle.”

H: ‘Ok great, thanks.’

That was the first bottle. Many would follow. Buying a 1.5 L non-sparkling water bottle quickly became part of the daily routine. They were cheap and available on every corner.

WE ARE RESPONSIBLE TOO

The problem with routines is that you stop paying attention to it. Or wondering how things can be done differently. Until you get a wake-up call.

I was shocked by the amount of litter along the road. So many plastic bottles! Heaps of plastic were being burned, releasing a toxic smell. I realised we as tourists are responsible too. You think you’re doing the right thing by leaving your empty bottle behind in the trashcan, but what happens to it next? That was my wake-up call. Like Cruijff used to say: “You can only see it, when you get it” (in Dutch “Je gaat het pas zien als je het door hebt”).

A DREAM WAS BORN

I started to feel bad about buying water bottles. But there was no alternative. Until we visited an eco-restaurant in Vang Vieng, Laos, where we were offered to refill our empty water bottles from a large tank. Incredibly simple and very efficient. The next day we returned for another water refill and a cup of coffee.

When we arrived in Vientiane I searched for another refill point. I walked several blocks, but there were none to be found. Next town, same problem.  It almost became an obsession. After a while I gave up. But a dream was born: to set-up water refill points for tourists.

FOLLOW YOUR DREAMS

It took me nearly 7 years to start Refill Ambassadors. I finished my studies Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft and started working for Kuyichi and onna-onna. My idea to set up refill-points was still there, but I did not make time for it. Until I submitted a project proposal for the Nudge Global Impact Challenge 2017 and won one of the wildcards (sponsored by PWN). The challenge was truly amazing and it motivated me to follow my dream. Refill Ambassadors was founded!

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LIKE HANSEL AND GRETEL

Imagine you are doing a beautiful hike in the Sacred Valley, Peru. It’s sunny and you’re at high altitude. You are reminded to keep drinking a lot of water. Your bottle is almost empty. Luckily there is a small café along the path where you can buy new drinks. You pay 5 soles for a new 1L water bottle, throw your empty bottle in the trashcan and continue your quest.

Unfortunately, this is the usual way. We all need to drink water, and in some countries the only option as a tourist is to buy plastic bottles. Once empty, we throw them away and loose responsibility. It becomes someone else’s problem. Strange when you think about it.

As tourism grows, so does the waste problem. We can even trace the right walking route by searching for empty bottles, just like the fairy tale of Hansel and Gretel. Gretel’s breadcrumbs disappeared in an instance, but plastic bottles can stay intact for 450 years.

WHAT IF?

Hopefully we will soon be able to make that beautiful hike, without leaving a trace. When there are sufficient water refill points along the way, it becomes much easier. So please read again:

Imagine you are doing a beautiful hike in the Sacred Valley, Peru. It’s sunny and you’re at high altitude. You are reminded to keep drinking a lot of water. Your water bottle is almost empty. Luckily there is a small café along the path. You refill your bottle from a large tank containing purified water. You pay 4 soles for the refill and continue your quest.

SHARE YOUR STORY

Are you into hiking? What do you do to leave no trace? Tell us about it!

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IN 450 YEARS FROM NOW…

We humans nowadays live up to around 80 – 90 years. This is peanuts for plastic bottles. They need around 450 years to decompose. 450 years? That means an empty bottle disposed today could still be alive until the year 2468.

PET FOR DUMMIES

Water bottles are made from PET (polyethylene terephthalate), which is a thermoplastic polymer. PET belongs to the polyester family. Parts made from PET can be recognised by resin code number 1. The material can be found in different states: white (semi-crystalline), transparent (amorphous), or coloured (using additives). PET is very suitable for storing and conserving of beverages. Furthermore it is easy to process, widely available and cheap. It is possible to recycle PET, either by chemical or mechanical recycling.

So far, so good. What about the difficulties?

PET is a non-degradable polymer. It consists of relatively large molecules that decay very slowly. That’s why plastic bottles can survive up to 450 years. Presently, the majority of empty PET bottles is not recycled. One reason is that bottles are not properly disposed. For example, because consumers don’t properly seperate plastics from general waste. Secondly, the infrastructure for recycling is still limited. As a result most bottles end up in landfill or are being incinerated. Valuable material is wasted. Incineration also causes air pollution and contributes to acid rain.

YOUR DEED FOR THE DAY

Your mum may have told you not to pick up things from the street, but… Next time you see a roaming PET bottle, pick it up and dispose it in a proper place. So it won’t celebrate its 450th birthday in our nature. Believe me, it becomes quite entertaining and rewarding when you do so!

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