CLOSCA: OVER 200.000 REFILL STATIONS IN ONE APP

Have you already heard of Closca Water App? One year ago, we analysed 15 different water refill apps. Since then, a couple of new refill apps have joined the stage, including BluHop (India) and Closca (based in Spain). Triggered by the name, we checked out the Closca Water app and found more than 200.000 refill stations listed worldwide. Wow! And they have just started. Who are the people behind this organisation? How do they work? And what’s next? Read our interview with David Villalón, Product Manager at Closca. 

INTERVIEW WITH DAVID VILLALÓN, CLOSCA (D), BY HELLA HEKKELMAN (H)

H: When and how did Closca started?

D: We dream of a society where cities are a better place to live in and thrive. More sustainable, friendly, green and honest cities, where we are able to reflect and change things, redesigning our environment. That is why we create products that inspire you and create awareness and a positive impact on the planet. So we started with the collapsible helmet and the #citieswithsoul movement and continued with our reusable bottle and #mylastplasticbottle challenge, and now we are developing our refill app.

The Closca water app was launched in June so we are really new. We are also a very young team, the average age is 27. We try to make a product that can make impact, and to invite other organizations to join us. Our goal is to stop the plastic problem, generate impact and to help the most people with this.

H: Interesting. And for you personally, why did you want to work for Closca?

D: The difference with Closca and other organizations is that is real. We really want to generate a real impact at the society, environment… and because of that reason is why I love working here. My role is to coordinate all the app development and roadmap while creating new features and improving the experience, because of that I am able to talk with our users and feel how we are really into something great. It is awesome. 

H: Nice that you and your team are making real impact in society. With our project Refill Ambassadors we interviewed people from many different refill movements and we feel some other organisations are also doing great things, for local communities and globally. But Back to Closca. You say you want to help people. How?

D: Our app now has around 200.000 fountains. We also want to add new refill stations in small businesses, like bars and cafés. And also with big brand and shops, airports.

We see a change: some people are starting to see the problem of plastic waste, but others not (yet). We are trying to create a habit, that’s why we created a reward system. For example you get a discount when you buy something in a store when refilling your bottle. In this way, refilling will also be interested for people who want to save money. Not just for people who want to save plastics.

THE CLOSCA WATER APP

H: How could you grow from 0 to 200.000 refill stations in just two months?

D: We had another app, so we already had a big database with public fountains. In the Closca Water App you can also add new refill stations. We see that people all around the world are uploading new fountains every day. We have a really engaged community.

H: Ah, that makes sense! Can I ask you how you promote the app?

D: It’s a surprise for us because actually we haven’t promoted the app yet. But people are already using it and uploading pictures of new fountains. We were even contacted by a Mexican kid stating there are no fountains in his area, and he wants to do something about it. So we asked our network for help, hoping they can create new refill stations in businesses and start to make changes. What we valuate more and that motivate us is to listen to our user’s feedback, that they really care about the same problem that us.

H: That’s so cool! I hope it will work. Nowadays there are many different refill apps. What do you think will happen in the future?

D: I really don’t know. I don’t think there will be just one app. Our goal is not to be the only refill app, but to make impact and stop plastics. 

H: I agree. I think there will be room for multiple apps. Some people might prefer an app in their own language, or for a very specific region only. Last question: What are your future plans?

D: Now we are working on improvements for the app, for example specify the type of water (e.g. cold, filtered). And we close new partnerships all over the world. We are not trying, we are going for it.  

H: Thank you. Good luck with your work. And thanks so much for your time!

D: You too, thank you so much.

DOWNLOAD THE APP & START REFILLING

It seems Closca Water App and Refill Ambassadors will cross paths more often in the future. If you want to support Closca, download the app and upload new refill stations in the app. And of course, carry a refillable bottle with you all the time.

Images: Closca 

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BLUHOP: REFILL STATIONS IN INDIA THANKS TO A 14 YEAR OLD BOY

BluHop is a brand new refill app, launched on June 1st 2019. So far they have reached around 60 cities across India with over 200 Refill stations. BluHop has a remarkable story: it was initiated by a 14-year old boy named Aaryan. His father Akash helps him with operations, to expand the service and with networking. How cool! We wanted to know more about this project and the app. Read our interview with Akash Agrawal, BluHop.

INTERVIEW WITH AKASH AGRAWAL, BLUHOP

Why did you start BluHop?

‘We went on a long road trip sometime back. On our trip we found it very difficult to find places to refill our bottles. Every time we would end up buying plastic water bottles as there was no alternative. We knew there had to be better way and thus BluHop was born.’

Interesting story. In fact, your motivation to start BluHop is the same as we, Refill Ambassadors, had. Although we must admit Hella waited eight years before starting our project, while you acted immediately J. Back to your app. How does it work?

‘BluHop is a location based mobile app that lets users find refill stations nearby and get real time navigation. Users can see the following information:

  1. Nearest Refill station with time and walking distance
  2. Type of Refill partner (Café, restaurant, drinking fountain etc)
  3. Type of water available (Chilled, Regular)
  4. Conveniences at refill point – specially-abled friendly, parking etc.

Users can apply various filters if they wish and narrow down their search.’

Very clear. We expect these search filters will be useful. Which places can be added as refill stations?

‘Any consumer facing facility can be added as a Refill Station. These may be cafés, restaurants, salons, gyms, clinics, offices and more. Water vending machines and drinking fountains can also be added as refill stations. BluHop is free for Refill partners and users. Refill Partners need to sign up, answer a few questions, input their address and they are done. They show up as a Refill Station on the app and users can find them easily.

We also share stickers that we use on store fronts to let customers know that this store offers Free Refills.’

STARTING A NEW BUSINESS

You just started BluHop. What are the difficulties?

‘The Refill culture is not very prevalent in India. One of the reasons for this is that there was no way find refill stations, i.e. until now. We are hopeful that with time we will be able to change this. First time discussions with businesses are sometimes difficult as this is something new for them. However, once they understand they usually sign up.’

Changing behaviour always takes time and patience. It is great you are trying. Do you work together with other partners, sponsors or companies?

‘We have just launched the service. So far, we are working with WaterHealth International, a private, American multinational corporation headquartered in California. The company operates a network of water vending machines (WVMs) in India. We are also working with another large in-country WVM operator. There are multiple city level partnerships. Country wide partnerships are being forged as we go long. We hope to be able to announce these soon.’

WATER QUALITY IN INDIA

How is the water quality in India? Can you drink tap water (in some areas)?

‘There is strict regulation around water quality that is supplied however actual quality can vary from area to area. It is not advisable to drink right out of the tap for this reason. Every household has its own water purification system.’

Having your own purification  system at home is very good. But when you are on the go you need alternatives, like the refill stations you create. What kind of water is served at the refill stations?

‘Most refill stations serve both regular and chilled water. Purification system vary slightly however many refill stations use RO (Reverse Osmosis) based systems. A few water vending machine operators have their own multi-stage proprietary purification systems.’

What are your future plans?

‘We plan to initiate outreach in select cities and get a few partnerships going. Our immediate target is to reach five hundred refill points and then to a thousand by the year end. A medium sized but well known Cafe chain has agreed to offer refills. This is another first! We would be keen to extend our services to other regions, countries where no such service currently exists. Refill partners can sign up anytime from anywhere.’

Congratulations on your first Café chain! We hope more will follow. Do you have tips for us, Refill Ambassadors?

‘Refill Ambassadors are doing a great job. Every effort towards building awareness about the menace of plastic water bottles and how refill services are helping make a difference will drive usage and benefit the environment.

Most Refill services are only locally known. Global travel is increasing at a fast pace. If local refill station owners are encouraged to list themselves on multiple platforms, then it will further help drive awareness and build confidence in countries where refill culture is limited. Brands will also get more visibility across borders at no cost.’

We completely agree with this. Thank you so much Akash and Aaryan. We wish you good luck and hope to hear more from you in the future.

DOWNLOAD THE APP

The BluHop app is available on both iOS and Android. Be the first to like BluHop on facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Read more about BluHop on their website or get in touch with them through lestsconnect@bluhop.com.

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RETULP: REFILL TO FULFILL

Dopper, Klean Kanteen, Retulp, Mizu, Camelbak. All these brands have designed their own bottle, but share the same goal: to reduce single-use plastics around the world. You might have read my blog about my BFF, my Best Bottle Forever. A bottle you always carry with you and want to keep refilling. I was curious to learn more about the motivation from the people behind a bottle brand. What is their mission? Who are their heroes? Time for a chat with Richard Gabriël, founder of Retulp.

THE PACKAGING DILEMMA

We meet at the train station lounge in the Hague. When ordering a tea, we both feel some frustration and sadness, as sugar, honey and the little cookies are wrapped in plastic. “If I were to open a restaurant I would use beautiful sugar bowls and big honey pots”, Richard comments. I already like his thinking! But what about the packaging Retulp uses?

Retulp bottles are being sold in a box made from recycled cardboard, with a small leaflet inside. Richard tells me he’d prefer to sell his bottles without any packaging material, yet most retailers do require this. Even EkoPlaza, an organic supermarket chain. They reason that consumers are less inclined to buy the bottles with a few fingerprints on it. A nice exception is Dille & Kamille (a home, garden and kitchen utensils store), who prefers to sell Retulp bottles without packaging. Interesting, I always thought the brands were to blame, but it turns out to be a lot more complicated.

ABOUT RETULP

Retulp was established in 2014 in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands. Back in the days, Richard was inspired by Plastic Soup Surfer Merijn Tinga. Local and global awareness on the plastic soup issue has increased enormously in the past three years. Retulp’s slogan is ‘Refill to fulfill’. Beside the stainless steel water bottles, they sell their tea/coffee thermos mug (see image below) and a biobased bottle (made from sugar cane). Richard feels the current incentives to refill hot drinks are too limited. “Starbucks give you €0,05 discount, while most staff perceives it as a hazard.” Retulp also considers to add lunch & dinner boxes in the future “so you can refill everything. Water, tea, your Thai takeaway meal”. Not surprisingly, Richard perceives ‘zero-waste sisters’ Jessie and Nicky Kroon as true heroes.

RECYCLING VERSUS REUSING 

I was wondering what Richard thinks about overconsumption. In his opinion, there is too much focus on recycling. Most of all we need to start buying less products. Secondly, try to buy sustainable products. I agree with this. In practice, recycling often means downcycling. The recycled raw material no longer has the purity of the original raw material. Although recycling is important, reusing and reducing is more effective.

We also talk about the perception of product value related to price. Nowadays, you can buy a reusable bottle for a few euros (e.g. made from Polypropyleen, plastic no. 5). This lowers the threshold for people to buy one. But we both feel ‘too cheap’ could have a high price. Do you look after your cheap bottle? If you lose it, you just buy a new one. We see the same thing happening in the fashion industry. People are more careful with a €100,- shirt than one that only costs €13,-.

MISSION INDISPOSABLE 2020

Back to Retulp. For 2020, Retulp aims to avoid 20 million disposable plastic bottles and to donate 20 million liters of drinking water to people in developing countries. They do this through Mission Indisposable 2020. For every bottle sold, 1.000 litres of clean drinking water will be donated. I’ll try to give you an update next year on the progress.

READ MORE

Two hours fled by and we had to end our interesting conversation. Thanks a lot Richard, for sharing your thoughts with me. Keep up the Dutch Design spirit! To read more about Richard Gabriël, Retulp and Mission Indisposible or to get your own Retulp bottle (also available printed or engraved for companies) visit the Retulp website.

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ZERO WASTE EVENT

Refill Ambassadors will be one of the speakers at the Zero Waste event on April 13th at The Green House, Utrecht. The day starts with a delicious vegetable breakfast from chef Peter Scholte, followed by an interactive program full of inspiring speakers and workshops on the theme “Zero Waste” organized by Plastic Diet and The Zero Waste Project.

PROGRAMME ZERO WASTE EVENT, APRIL 13TH

10:00 am Walk-in with a vegetable breakfast from chef Peter Scholte
11:00 am Interactive program with various speakers and workshops
14:00 pm End of program

The event will be in Dutch

Curious? Contact us for more details about the program or follow the event on facebook.

Price: € 19.50 including service costs, vegetable breakfast, coffee and tea, tour of The Green House and extensive program with inspiring speakers and workshops.

Registration: Due to the great success of last year and the limited number of places, advance registration is required. You can buy your tickets here.

ABOUT THE GREEN HOUSE

The Green House is a restaurant, urban farm, green hub and terrace. From April 8 to 13, The Green House celebrates its first year anniversary and this is celebrated with all kinds of activities around sustainability and circularity. The Zero Waste event will be the week’s final activity.

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TAP WATER IN ARUBA, BONAIRE & CURAÇAO

Can you drink tap water in Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao? The answer is yes. Tap water on these former Dutch Antilles islands is distilled from sea water. It is perfectly safe to drink, meeting the highest quality standards of the World Health Organization. I was wondering whether you can also get water refills on these islands. Time for a meetup with Rob van Holstein, refill ambassador and Caribbean expert.

REFILL STATIONS IN ARUBA, BONAIRE AND CURACAO


According to Rob, refill stations on Aruba, Bonaire and Curaçao are limited. Public drinking fountains hardly exist, whereas local businesses are not used to provide refills. Luckily, Rob and his colleague Charlotte try to change this. With “Gratis Drinkwater”, they want to create a network of free refill stations.

Their ultimate goal is to decrease the waste stream of small single-use plastic bottles with 90% by 2020.

Rob: “My drive was born on Bonaire. Plastic garbage is washed ashore, especially after a tropical storm. Tiny plastic parts are scattered on the beaches. I knew the images of sea animals with plastic particles in their bellies, but seeing it in real life was something different.”

So far, Rob has made several visits to the Caribbean and launched 33 refill stations on Bonaire. These refill stations can be found in local restaurants, bars, dive shops, etc. Everyone can drop by for a free refill. For business owners, a water refill costs only €0,01 and it generates interesting foot traffic.

THE BLUE BOTTLE

In addition to the refill network, Rob created the Blue Bottle. The Blue Bottle is a thermos flask made of two layers of stainless steel. It keeps drinks hot (up to 6 hours) or cold (up to 12 hours). Rob told me he uses the Blue Bottle himself for water, tea, coffee and even beer!

The 500 ml Blue Bottle is sold for €15,-. The bigger 750 ml variant costs €20,-. So if you buy a Blue Bottle, you earn it back after only a couple of refills. And nice to know: 5% of the sales price is donated to local foundations in Bonaire.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Based on my own experience, I really recommend you to connect with other people when working on a project. Talking with Rob gave me insights about issues such as project investments. Rob:  “Stay positive and do the best you can. I trained my dog to pick up plastic bottles and cans.”

Changing behaviour requires time and patience. Rob hopes to create more refill stations in the near future and to collaborate with relevant local organisations. Both on Bonaire, other Caribbean islands and in the Netherlands itself. Good luck Rob! And for those travelling to the Caribbean, bring your refillable bottle or get yourself a Blue Bottle.  

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BEST PRACTICES: REFILL

Refill is on a mission to inspire social change: stopping plastic bottles at its source and making it easier to refill. Over the past years, this campaign has grown into a community with over 15,000 Refill Stations, which are listed in their app. How did this develop? What’s next? Time for an interview with programme manager Gus Hoyt.

INTERVIEW WITH GUS HOYT (G) BY HELLA HEKKELMAN (H)

H: Which places can be added as refill stations?

G: We want to be positive, fun and inclusive. Any businesses with a publicly accessible tap, that welcomes thirsty refillers, can be added as refill station. Public fountains can also be added to the map.

H: And how does this work? 

G: Our free Refill app is designed to find water on the go. Businesses have to create a free profile and are added to the map. With the specially designed window stickers local business owners show their commitment. The sticker also lowers the threshold to ask for a free water refill.

FROM 1 TO 15.000 REFILL STATIONS

H: Refill has grown from 1 to >15,000 refill stations in only three years. How did this develop?

G: It all began in 2015, when City to Sea was founded by Nathalie Fee. In the same year, Bristol had the European Green Capital award status. Refill was selected to be one of the test pilots and ended-up being one of three ‘Legacy Initiatives’ for the city.

Like most new ideas, we started small, and tested different models as pilots. Soon it became clear that the demand for refill stations was huge, not just in Bristol, but also in other parts. We tried out different (business) models before expanding. We built it up over the next year and started to grow in other parts of the U.K. It was hard work, especially at the beginning. In 2018 it exploded.

Finding funding was tricky as the initiative was new and investors wanted to see if Refill ran the test of time before committing.

H: I saw on the app that some franchises are also added as refilling stations.

G: Yes, quite a lot actually. Costa Coffee was the first chain to join. Then Weatherspoons, Starbucks, Fullers, and some others. Also many smaller ones like Boston Tea Party, who just won the ethical café award this year for ditching single use coffee cups! The conversations take a long time but once you got them on board you’ve got a high number of refill stations.

H: Mmm, that seems to require a lot of patience, persistence and enthusiasm. What about you? How did this job fit in your career?

G: Haha, good question! Among other things I worked as scuba-diver and chef, trying to develop sustainable menus. Then my focus shifted to sustainable housing and other green projects, before getting elected as a City Councilor and serving as one of  Bristol’s first assistant mayors (for the Green party). In 2016 the party lost its local seat, but the time was right and I could increase my commitment to Refill and think about expanding over the rest of the UK.

H: Interesting! Sometimes, unexpected situations have good outcomes. How do you keep track of thousands of refill stations?

G: We try to engage very much with communities, and get involved with a local level. For the U.K. we now have five regional coordinators, who enable and empower communities to start their Refill Group. Sometimes these local groups extend to other plastic free initiatives. Facebook groups and twitter handles are also powerful tools.

H: Can you share some of your future plans?

G: Our plan is to expand it next year to Europe. The Netherlands are a high priority for us and further afield we are looking to Australia and New Zealand. In Germany this is already happening, with Refill Deutschland and we’d like to help as much as possible. We hope to enroll more European countries. Furthermore we continuously try to improve our app and documents, like the “How to Guide”.

H: Excellent! We from Refill Ambassadors will try to help out as much as we can to facilitate this process and to stimulate the #Refillution.

G: That would be great!

START REFILLING!

This conversation with Gus made my day. I will keep you up to date about the team’s  adventures over the next months. But for now, let’s switch perspectives. What about YOU? Do you live in Europe or are you travelling around here? Then I recommend you to download the Refill app (available for iOS and Android). Like Gus explained, it saves you money, helps you to stay hydrated and last but not least to reduce single-use plastics.

FURTHER READS

Refill is part of City to Sea, a Community Interest Company campaigning to prevent plastic pollution at the source. Learn more about City to Sea.

Meet the people behind refilling projects! Read the Best Practices on Frank Water and RefillMyBottle.

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PLASTIC-FREE HIGHLIGHTS IN SEVILLE

When travelling, you easily use a dozen single-use plastics per day. Coffee-cups to go, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic straws, plastic toiletries, etc. Spain and single-use plastics go hand in hand. But there is light in the end of the tunnel. During our research trip in Seville we found some great plastic-free shops and restaurants. We’ll tell you all about it! 

OUR TOP-3 PICK

  1. El Jarillo Lata

This beautiful store has everything you need to carry food and beverages. Also a wide range of wooden toothbrushes, soaps and cloth diapers. The founder Sonia Sánchez explained us all about their product assortment and vision. Definitely worth a visit (check the opening hours first), as the neighbourhood is really nice too. Don’t miss out on Mercado de Feria, next door Palacio Marqueses de la Algaba, or the free Flamengo nights in Taberna Gonzalo Molina.

Located in the same street as El Jarillo Lata, this vegan restaurant has tasty vegan food that comes with a bonus: free chilled tap water. The water tap is connected to the beer tap’s cooling system. We’ve seen this in more bars and really like this. So don’t hesitate to ask for a cold glass or bottle refill. Water with gas is served in glass bottles.

Located in a cute market (Mercado del Arenal), this place has delicious cakes, pastries and main dishes. And lots of tea. You will not find any single-use plastic bottles here, Veganitessen is happy to provide you a fresh refill from the tap (self-service).

READY TO EXPLORE?

Our little plastic-free detour has brought us to some beautiful places outside the main attractions.  You can be part of the change. Fill your durable bottle when you leave the hotel. Ask for refills in the bar, restaurant or use a refill app to find the nearest refill point. Be pro-active and you can manage to travel without plastic bottles in Spain. Buena suerte.

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TAP WATER IN SEVILLE

Is it safe to drink tap water in Spain? Yes! At least 99.5% of all public tap water in Spain is safe to drink. According to a recent study, Seville has the best tap water of all big cities in Spain. Do people – locals and travellers – actually drink from the tap in Seville (in Spanish: agua de grifo)? And where can you refill? That’s what our Ambassadors Hella and Michal are trying to find out. Time for a quick update from Seville, Spain. 

DO PEOPLE DRINK TAP WATER IN SEVILLE?

So apparently tap water in Seville is the best in Spain. We don’t know if this is true, but we agree that Seville’s tap water is good compared to other places we visited. It has a slight chlorine taste, but one quickly get used to this.

Many people seem to drink tap water at home or in the hostel, but they buy bottled water in restaurants or when on the go. These insights were confirmed by employees from several venues. Still, some people choose not to drink the tap water, like Monica (tourist from Northern Ireland): “I feel bad about buying plastic bottles, but I really don’t like the taste of tap water here.” 

PLASTIC BOTTLES & REFILL PLACES IN SEVILLE

What do we see on the streets? Our observations:

  • Single-use plastic water bottles can be found on every corner: in the grocery store, kiosk, tourist shop and ho(s)tel. Even so claimed eco-friendly venues usually sell single-use plastic bottles. Read the next blog for some found some positive  exceptions.
  • Most restaurants and bars serve water in single-use plastic bottles, unless one specifically asks for tap water. Note: Andalusian cafés and bars are required by law to provide free drinking water to customers (as part of a regional government plan to improve the population’s health).
  • There is no deposit on plastic water bottles (only on >20 litre gallons).
  • Some venues (usually more luxurious) offer glass bottled water.
  • There are bars and restaurants with a tap water jug and glasses available for self-service. If not, you can ask for it. A few bars serve cold tap water.
  • Public drinking fountains can be found in many squares and public spaces, also in touristy areas. These fountains have signposts indicating it’s safe to drink. The public drinking fountains are sometimes hard to spot, and sometimes unsuitable for bottle refills.

PLASTIC BOTTLES FOR SALE ON EVERY CORNER

Many tourists buy single-use plastic water bottles out of convenience. You can find them on any street corner in town, for usually €1,- (for 0,5 L). Hostel staff and shop workers stated they sell a lot more water bottles in summer, when it gets really hot. In supermarket the water is cheaper, around €0,45 for 0,5L (cold water). Prices for large bottles can go down to €0,65,- for 5L (unchilled).

OPPORTUNITIES

Overall, we think Seville has decent tap water, so whenever you’re visiting this beautiful city, ask for agua de grifo! If you want cold water, you still have to buy plastic bottles in most bars, restaurants or kiosks. We see a gap for cold water refill stations, and an overview of all refill points. In addition, the taste of tap water can be improved by using filters. We are going to test a filter for our next blog, so stay tuned!

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REFLECTION ON A PLASTIC DIET

During the month September I was on a plastic diet. One month without using single-use plastics. Or at least trying to do so. The plastic diet was organised by Opgemärkt and consisted of four weekly assignments. How did it go? Read about my struggles and victories.

WEEK 1: INSIGHT

The first assignment was to collect all plastics you’re throwing away and share your picture. I felt somewhat embarrassed but I put my picture on facebook (see below, and this is excluding plastic waste to-go). Furthermore I set myself the 1st goal: to cook plastic-free meals. This was though. I had friends over for dinner and wanted to make lasagne. I walked in the supermarket and ran out. Spinach, lasagne, butter, cheese. Everything wrapped in plastics. No lasagne tonight, and no more shopping at Albert Heijn this month.

WEEK 2: MAKE AN INVENTORY

This week’s assignment focused on tracking different categories of single-use plastics. Plastic bags, cups, bottles, straws, shampoo flasks etc. I already banned straws, bags and bottles, but realised that was about it. Ready for the next step! I took my tupperware to the roti-restaurant and my mug to my favourite coffee bar. As a sympathetic gesture they gave me 5 cent discount. Do you know you get €0,25 discount at train stations when you bring your reusable mug?!

WEEK 3: REPLACE

The past two weeks I avoided to buy things wrapped in plastics, like dairy products or cosmetics. But my stash was running out and I didn’t want to live on fruits, veggies, rice and bread forever. I switched to glass bottles (with €0,40 deposit) for yoghurt and milk (at EkoPlaza) and went to a bunch of speciality stores (e.g. cheese, nuts) with my own bags and jars. What a treat! It tastes amazing. I must admit the glass bottles are heavy and visiting all these stores is pretty time consuming. Luckily, you can find an overview of bulk stores in the Netherlands here.

Furthermore I experimented with cosmetics. I washed my hair with a soap bar. It took forever to rinse, so I’m not sure what’s actually better for the environment. My home-made deodorant (coconut oil, lavender oil and baking soda) was okay but got too fluid above 25°C. Making my own body-scrub (sea salt, olive oil and honey) turned out to be more successful, my skin felt super smooth and smelled great.

WEEK 4: SOCIAL SITUATIONS

Besides bringing my own cup, bags and jars, I started friendly chats with the waiters or other staff about single use-plastics and alternatives. This led to some interesting conversations and new insights. Two restaurants said they would eliminate plastic straws ASAP. Hurray!

WHAT DID I LEARN?

I thought I was doing pretty okay in plastic reduction, but during this month I realised I’m not even halfway there. When the plastic diet was finished, I felt relieved. And a bit sad. On one hand I had cravings to everything wrapped in plastic, on the other hand I did not feel like buying any plastics anymore. I feel I’m not ready for a complete zero waste lifestyle, like Jessie and Nicky Kroon (hetzerowasteproject) or Elisah Pals (ZeroWasteNederland). But I managed to change some aspects of my daily routines and that’s something to be proud of.

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I AM ON A PLASTIC DIET

This week I was one of the speakers at the “Plastic Dieet Kickoff” (Plastic diet) in Rotterdam. A great opportunity to present Refill Ambassadors and to share tips on where to refill your bottle. I also got inspired myself. How much plastic packaging do I use? And what can I do to reduce this?

WE ARE ADDICTED TO SINGLE-USE PLASTICS

Plastic bags, coffee cups to go, plastic straws. Plastic packaging is everywhere. The idea of the plastic diet is to avoid single-use plastics as much as possible for one month. By doing so, we raise awareness and hopefully change our addiction to plastics.

Some pioneers show it is possible. Nienke Binnendijk from BlueCity has been living almost entirely “plastic-free” for about two years, while Jesse and Nicky Kroon from Het Zero Waste Project adopted a zero waste lifestyle.

CHALLENGE ACCEPTED

Time for some self-reflection… Some measures to avoid single-use plastics are already part of my daily routine. As refill ambassador I use my BBF (Best Bottle Forever) instead of buying plastic bottles. When shopping, I try to bring my own bags and jars. These are baby steps. The amount of plastic packaging still entering my house or used on the go is considerable. Some of the groceries I buy are pre-packed, magazines come in a plastic wrapper, and almost all caring and cleaning products come in plastics. Plastic is also inside some products I use on a daily base, like facial scrubs or toothpaste.

For the first time of my life, it’s time to go on a diet. This month I will try to avoid products involving single-use plastics. That’s going to be hard, but I’m really excited to join this challenge!

READY TO START YOUR PLASTIC-FREE MONTH?

It’s the first week of September and you can still sign up for the challenge. You will receive tips and exercises to reduce the amount of single-use plastics. All communication is in Dutch. Looking for another language? Find your free tips here:

Spanish: 30 Días Sin Plástico

English: Plastic Free July; MyZeroWaste

German: Stadtkind; Otto; Kein Plastik für die Tonne

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BEST PRACTICES: REFILLMYBOTTLE

In our previous blog we analysed different water refill apps. One app that stood out was RefillBali, which shows over 700 refill stations across Indonesia and some parts of South-East Asia. We were amazed how much this organisation has achieved in a short time. How do they work? And what are their challenges? Read our interview with Christine Go, project manager at RefillMyBottle.

INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTINE GO (C)  BY HELLA HEKKELMAN (H)

H: When and how did RefillBali started?

C: RefillBali was initiated by Alex Tsuk and the BGreener Community around 1,5 years ago. Together with some other sustainable businesses owners, they built a network of water refill stations on Bali. The network is expanding to neighbouring islands in Indonesia as well as other countries, so the name was evolved to RefillMyBottle.

H: And for you personally, why did you want to work for RefillMyBottle?

C: As a part of my master degree in Climate Change and development, I took a research on Indonesian students’ behaviour towards the use of plastic bottles. One thing I discovered is that Indonesian students tend to bring their own reusable bottles when they live in the UK, yet not in Indonesia itself. This is due to the absence of refill facilities and tap water is not drinkable in Indonesia. When I came back and found out about this initiative, I wanted to apply immediately.

H: Can you tell me something about the plastic pollution in Bali?

C: Bali is an island that tourism has impacted in myriad ways. Over 5 million travellers visit Bali every year, staying in Bali for an average of 4 days. Tourists consume, on average, 2 litres of water each day. With each tourist using around 4 half-litre bottles a day, over 6 million disposable plastic bottles are used and discarded every month in Bali alone. And the numbers are only increasing. The lack of waste management systems means that these water bottles end up in landfills, the ocean, or are burned which creates toxic fumes. It’s clear that the problem needs to be tackled at the source by reducing consumption of plastic water bottles.

H: That’s an urgent problem indeed. Therefore we need to have many refill stations. How do they work?

C: Any businesses can register themselves as RefillStation on our website. They can choose the type of water they want to offer: gallons or filtered, as long as it’s safe to drink. They can give free refills or charge a small fee, ideally not more than the cost of plastic bottled water in shops.

THE REFILL BALI APP

H: I really like your app. How do you connect refill points to the app?

C: Thank you. The app shows all the businesses who have registered as refill stations through our system. We have recently integrated our map with refill stations from a number of similar projects, such as Refill Not Landfill and Luang Prabang – Handle with Care. For instance, if people open the Refill Not Landfill, they will see the RefillMyBottle stations, and vice versa. EXO Foundation and KHIRI Reach, as part of Impact Vietnam, are now taking the lead in expanding the RefillMyBottle network in Vietnam.

H: The users of the refill stations, are they mainly locals, tourists or both?

C: We work within the sustainable tourism scope together with other tourism businesses and organisations. For now,  most of the refill stations are located in tourist areas with travelers being our main target group. However, we hope that in time this initiative can be brought to the local level as well.

H: What challenges do you face?

C: Limited resources. Right now, we are only a team of three people working remotely for RefillMyBottle, and some of us are working on a part-time basis so we can only grow so much. We need your help to bring this initiative to the next level. You can support us by helping spread the words about RefillMyBottle in your local community or through our fundraising page.  

H: Let’s hope you can find a way to deal with this. What are your future plans?

C: Imagine a world you can explore without ever buying a plastic bottle. We are hoping to create this world. Mapping places around the global where people can refill their water bottle.

H: That would be great. Could we from Refill Ambassadors also add new refill stations to your app? And what about public fountains?

C: Yes, absolutely! We are very happy to grow the refill stations network. You can do so by completing our online sign-up form which can be found at our website. With the new app people can also make suggestions for public fountains and we will upload them onto the map.

H: Do you have tips for us, Refill Ambassadors?

C: Engage with local organisations who know the community better. We work together with a number of organisations who take the lead of this initiative at their local community, andwhat a coincidence because we call them the ‘refill ambassadors’, just like you!

H: We’ll keep that in mind, thanks. Last question: we talked about your approach, challenges and future plans. What do you dream about?

C: I hope that at some point we don’t need an app anymore to refill, because you can find refill stations just on every corner. I hope that bringing a reusable bottle and refill will become the norm. But right now to have the app is a good tool to create awareness and help people find refill points.

H: Terimah kasih! Good luck with RefillMyBottle.

C: You too, thank you so much!

TWO PROJECTS, ONE GOAL

It turns out that Refill Ambassadors and RefillMyBottle have many things in common. The conversation with Christine has been so nice. To me it felt like calling a close friend, even though we’d never met before and there is twelve thousand kilometer between us. I am looking forward to collaborate with her and the RefillMyBottle team in the near future. Stay tuned!

DOWNLOAD THE APP & START REFILLING

If you want to support RefillMyBottle, download the app and follow them on facebook. And of course, carry a refillable bottle with you all the time.

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REFILL AMBASSADORS X WORLD CLEANUP DAY

World Cleanup Day is coming… In exactly one month, millions of volunteers will come together to clean up litter and waste from cities, beaches, rivers and  forests.

STARTING BOTTOM-UP

The idea for World Cleanup Day started ten years ago in Estonia, when thousands of people cleaned the entire country of illegally dumped waste within in a few hours. Other countries got inspired to start a similar ‘one country, one day’ formula. The movement has grown and nowadays unites people from all over the planet. Besides the cleaning of trash, awareness is raised on the problem.

World Cleanup Day Movement is a big network of local cleanup teams. Within the Netherlands, the movement is led by the Plastic Soup Foundation and Nudge.

WHY IS THIS AN IMPORTANT DAY?

No one likes trash such as plastic packaging scattered on the streets or in nature. This alone would be enough reason to clean, but let’s take a look at the bigger problem. In nature, water bottles can survive up to 450 years. When not disposed properly, large particles fragment into microplastics (<5mm), causing serious harm to marine environments. Currently 95% of plastic packaging worldwide is lost (burned or dumped) after single use. Plastics in the oceans are expected to treble in the next 10 years. So we’d better pick it from the land before it reaches our rivers and seas.

JOIN

Refill Ambassadors will take part in this initiative. Want to join our cleaning team in Amsterdam on September 15th? Send us a message. It will be fun!

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BEST PRACTICES: FRANK WATER

When I think about all the plastic waste around us and the long road to improvement, I sometimes feel a bit lost. In these days, it helps to talk with like-minded people. This week I had the pleasure to interview Katie Alcott, CEO and founder of FRANK Water. This organisation combines a couple of cool refill-projects in the U.K. with community work in India and Nepal. Ready to get inspired?

INTERVIEW WITH KATIE ALCOTT (K)  BY HELLA HEKKELMAN (H)

H: FRANK Water is a social enterprise and a registered charity. How are these two related?

K: Through our projects in the U.K. we raise money and awareness on water usage and the importance of clean drinking water. For example with our Festival Refill Service. Our social enterprise donates 100% profit to our charity.

H: Interesting, can you tell a bit more about these festivals?

K: Our Festival Refill Service offers unlimited refills of chilled, filtered water to festival-goers if they buy a refillable water bottle or our wristband. All profit goes to our charity. We started this refill initiative in 2010. Right now is quite a busy time for us. The festival season is about to begin. We’ll be up and running the entire summer with over 200 volunteers.

H: Awesome! Can we also find your crew on a Dutch festival?

K: Currently not, but we often get requests. Perhaps in the near future with a more portable stand or a kind of Franchise model.

H: The water quality in the U.K. is among the best, still nearly 40 million plastic bottles are used in the U.K. every day. How come the consumption of plastic water bottles is so high?

K: It’s complicated. Bottled water companies know very well how to market their products. Consumers believe it’s more healthy to drink mineral and spring water. Furthermore the infrastructure for refilling in the U.K. is not great, whilst buying bottled water is just too convenient. It’s also a matter of trust. Some people do not trust public fountains. They ask themselves ‘are these cleaned regularly?’ ‘What about legionella’ or ‘How do I use these things’?

H: With Refill Ambassadors we want to establish refill points in hotels, shops cafes and restaurants. You’re also working together with a restaurant chain in Bristol. How does this work? Do you plan to expand and include other restaurants in the UK?

K: The restaurant offers table water to customers for a small charge, which is donated to our charity. When talking to relevant stakeholders we always offer the possibility. It’s quite time consuming and not always easy for the restaurant to offer and manage the donations, but it can work well.

H: Let’s talk a bit more about the charity. You work in many different communities oversees. How is this organised?

K: We are helping to secure clean drinking water and sanitation in marginalised rural communities. In India we employ two amazingly talented Indian nationals, with the right expertise who speak the language and understand the local cultures. We then collaborate with local NGOs to work with the communities and leverage support and expertise from national and international organisations, engineers and geologists.

H: What kind of water purifiers are being used?

K: This really depends on the area. For example we have bigger gravity-fed water filters in eastern India, and smaller filtration systems and a variety of different solutions in other areas. We try to find the best solution for each community. It’s about finding low-impact, sustainable solutions that require low-tech maintenance.

H: Do you have tips for Refill Ambassadors?

K: I think it’s great you started this initiative. Your focus on tourists is really interesting. It fills a gap. As a tourist, the last thing you want is to be ill due to contaminated water on your travels, so bottled water is often the only fail-safe solution.

H: You had that bad experience! And afterwards you founded FRANK Water.

K: Yes, indeed! I also think it is great that you ask a small contribution for the refill. In this way the local communities keep their profit and will be more likely to maintain the quality of safe drinking water. And as a consumer you learn to understand the value of water.

H: Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts. We wish you all the best with FRANK Water. Let’s stay in touch.

K: We will, thank you!

#PLEDGETOREFILL

Talking to Katie helped me to get back in positive thinking. Hopefully I get to meet this wonderful lady and her team one sunny day, at one of the festivals or in the field.

If you want to support FRANK Water, sign the #PledgetoRefill and commit to carry a refillable bottle with you everywhere you go.

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SO MANY OPTIONS, WHERE TO BEGIN?

The increasing consumption of single-use PET bottles is a global problem. This leads us to the difficult question: where to begin? Europe, Africa, Asia? You name it. Refill Ambassadors could work in any country. The possibilities seem endless.

WHERE CAN WE MAKE A BIG IMPACT?

Ultimately, our goal is to have refill points across the globe. We take step by step. We will start in one area, in one country where our ambassadors can make a big impact. This means, we will work in a place:

  • where tap water is potable, but not preferred to its taste and image. In these areas, most tourists currently buy plastic bottles every day.
  • with many hostels, restaurants and shops catered to tourists. That’s our target group. We believe refilling becomes the norm once water refill points are trustworthy, widely available and easily found.
  • where we can speak (or learn) the language. So we can do our research and communicate with local hotel-, restaurant and shop owners.
  • where it’s (relatively) safe. We want our ambassadors to feel free.

AND THE WINNER IS… SPAIN

So back to the question, where to begin? For now we decided to start in Spain. Why Spain?

With 81.8 million international visitors, Spain was the world’s second most visited country in 2017 (according to the World Tourism Organization). Infrastructure and facilities for tourists are excellent. In almost any Spanish town, you can enjoy a cafe latte and vegan banana cake while calling your mum with free Wi-Fi. However, it’s still incredibly hard to refill your bottle with tasty water. We see it as our mission to expand the network of refill points and spread the word.

OUR ULTIMATE DESTINATION… PERU

Our ultimate goal would be to expand to areas where water is non-potable, with many tourists and yet few refill points. Peru would be the ideal country. According to the Worldbank, the number of foreign tourists in Peru has tripled in the past fifteen years and a continous growth is expected. Tourists stick mainly to the same route, also known as the Gringo trail.

START SMALL, DREAM BIG

Most tourists in Spain can be found around historic cities, with famous attractions like the Sagrada Familia or Parc Güell in Barcelona. In each hotspot, thousands of bottles are left behind. What if tourists could refill their water bottle in their hostel, coffee bar or shop around the corner? Another interesting target are nature-lovers. What if you can get a water refill every few kilometers on all popular hiking trails?

Refill Ambassadors is ready to accept this challenge. Our next step is to better investigate tourism in Spain and chose the exact starting point. Stay tuned!

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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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