REFILLNZ: GET YOUR TAP ON THE MAP

RefillNZ (New Zealand) is the latest asset to the global refill infrastructure. Good news for the kiwis and tourists. Founded seven months ago in Wellington, RefillNZ has created over 130 refill stations in Wellington with nearly 300 throughout NZ. And this is just the beginning. Their goal: to prevent single use plastic pollution from water bottles at source. We had a chat with Jill Ford, founder of RefillNZ.

INTERVIEW WITH JILL FORD AND REFILL AMBASSADORS

Is tap water in New Zealand potable?

Tap water in NZ is free, clean, refreshing so there’s no need to buy bottled water. Still, kiwis use 168 plastic bottles each year, of which just 1/3 are recycled. That means 526 million water bottles are thrown away. Some tourists do not know you can drink tap water or they are not used to it.

Why did you start RefillNZ?

I do free diving, and noticed wherever you go there is rubbish in the water. So actually because of the sea I started this initiative. I have worked for CitytoSea in Bristol so I already knew about Refill.

How does RefillNZ work?

Our slogan is: Tap water is the drink of choice. We are asking cafes, bars, museums, to welcome people in to refill their water bottle – for free! The venues have a sticker in their window – alerting passers-by that they’re welcome to come on in and fill up their bottle. The interactive location-based map enables users to find a Refill station easily.

You just started, where are you standing right now?

We have grown from 1 to nearly 300 refill stations in six months. We founded a group of volunteers, they help us out to create new refill stations. We also got support from other small organisations.

What are the difficulties?

A big challenge is to get finance. There is interest from health organisations, because they want to combat the obesity epidemic.

Another difficulty involves mapping the refill stations. They have tried a few systems and now have a good map with search functionality. In the near future they want to add all refill stations to one or two leading refill apps, like RefillMyBottle and Refill.

Do you have tips for travellers how to reduce plastics?

I am a cycle advocate so I drink plenty of water! When I travel in other countries where tap water is non-potable, I bring sterilising tables and a camel pak (water bladder in my back pack), sterilise water from the tap over night and am ready to go in the morning.  My water bladder holds 2 litres of water.

HELP REFILLNZ GROW 

Thank you Jill, it was great talking to you! Being an action woman, experienced marketeer, campaigner and fundraiser, Jill really is a Jack of all trades, who is passionate about making a difference. We wish Jill and her team lots of luck and hope to meet her soon during her next cycle trip in Holland.

Do you want to create a refill station in New Zealand? Visit https://refillnz.org.nz to put your station on the map.

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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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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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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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