NO EXCUSE FOR SINGLE USE

Locate your drinking water refill spot, grab a coffee in your reusable cup on your way to work and  shop without using single-use plastics. Today, Refill is launching a better version of the app and a new campaign called ‘no excuse for single use’. We are really excited about this. Refill will be the 1st app (as far as we know) to find where to eat, drink and shop without packaging. The free Refill app helps you to reduce plastic packaging. And you can help them too!

 

REFILL APP – WHAT’S NEW?

Click the icons on the map to find places where you can bring your own containers or buy items packaging free! 

Image: Refill.org.uk

NO EXCUSE FOR SINGLE USE 

You may wonder how many plastics items are being used worldwide. Thanks to Refill, we can share some numbers with you (sources are provided in the links). 

ABOUT REFILL (REFILL.ORG.UK) 

Refill started as a water refill campaign in Bristol in 2015. Refill is part of City to Sea, a Community Interest Company campaigning to prevent plastic pollution at the source. Bottled water is a serious issue in the U.K. and across the globe. However, the issue of plastic pollution is much BIGGER than bottled water. Therefore, the Refill Team decided to expand the app to all sorts of refills. Their vision is a world where everyone has the power to choose to reuse and refill wherever they shop, eat or drink. We totally support their work. Read more about Refill’s history.

JOIN: DOWNLOAD THE REFILL APP AND START REFILLING

Are you ready to join the #refillution? Download the Refill app (available for iOS and Android). The app already shows >30.000 places offering free drinking water globally.

Do you have your own café, shop or restaurant?

Pointless packaging poster (source: Refill)
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REFILL DEUTSCHLAND: GERMANY’S UNIQUE GRASSROOTS REFILL MOVEMENT

Refill Deutschland (Refill Germany) recently celebrated its third birthday. So far, this nationwide refill organisation has put 5.400 refill stations and public drinking fountains on the map. From the start, all team members have worked voluntary. Even more interesting: it has grown into an open community project, where everyone can join. In this interview, Refill Deutschland founder Stephanie Wiermann and content writer Louisa Bahl explain how they operate.

INTERVIEW WITH STEPHANIE AND LOUISA, REFILL DEUTSCHLAND

Stephanie, you founded Refill Deutschland in March 2017. How come?

Stephanie: I was inspired by Refill (UK), Refill Bali and Refill NY and wanted to bring the concept to my city, Hamburg. So, I created the website, designed the window stickers and Refill Deutschland was born. My initial plan was to operate just in Hamburg. But soon after, people from other German cities showed interest, too. This is how it turned into a national movement.

That makes sense. You probably picked the right time to start. And word of mouth can be powerful. We’ll talk about that later. Could you tell us a bit about the team and about yourselves?

Stephanie: Sure! Our core Refill Deutschland team currently consists of Michael, Louisa and me. Another 5 volunteers join us regularly and we are very happy about their work in the field of social media and research. And then we have community-volunteers all over the country. As for me, I work in web design and graphic design. Last year I started a wild herbs cooking school. In our backyards and all around us the delicious and healthy wild herbs are growing but we lost the knowledge about it. I want to bring them back in our lives.

Stephanie Wiermann. Copyright Sabine Büttner

Louisa: I joined the team about in January 2019, but I noticed the project already in September 2018, when I saw a small article in a magazine. I have always been interested in water and wrote my first school project about Nestlés drinking water projects with the age of 17. As I wanted to engage for something connected to the environment and especially water,  Refill Deutschland is a good fit. I am the content writer for Refill Deutschland.

Louisa Bahl, content writer Refill Deutschland

EASY AND ACCESIBLE

Happy to hear that. You all run this project as volunteers. Is that a conscious decision or out of necessity? 

Stephanie: We have discussed this topic a lot. Of course, we could try to sell our own branded bottles or look for sponsors as most refill initiatives do, but this means other commitments. We keep coming back to the same ideals: as easy and as accessible as possible. In addition, we want to lower the boundaries to refill, even a jam jar is suitable!

Therefore, we keep our operational costs as low as possible. I maintain the website and we have a set of banners. New refill stations print or order their own window sticker.  Our communities (in various German cities) also choose the low-cost DIY approach, for example when organising campaigns.

Refill Deutschland awareness campaign run by volunteers in the city of Jena, Germany

 

Louisa: I think we all are intrinsically motivated to change the ways how we consume and how we pollute, so we all invest our free time for the good. And as Stephanie said, we all agree that our guidelines – that we want to stay independent and open and free to all who want to join – are an outstanding signal of Refill Deutschland. We had more than 50 cities, in which people were organizing the Refill cities, and at some more than twenty distribution stations you can pick up the blue stickers for free.

Refill Deutschland sticker
Refill Deutschland window sticker. Copyright Jens Peter Wedlich Schüttgut

Ah nice! At Refill Ambassador we have a very similar approach. We all work as volunteers too. How do you balance the amount of time and effort you spend on this project?

Stephanie: It’s a lot of fun. In case you’re thinking about starting a refill platform in your own country, just do it! Now is the right momentum.

Louisa: As in my opinion, Refill Deutschland is an important step to reduce plastic waste and revalue our tap water, I would love to do more, also because I really like writing, particularly about topics which are close to my heart It has to fit with my master degree, my student jobs, and as it is all voluntarily, also with hobbies and seeing family and friends. But luckily, there is no strict schedule for publishing new blogs. I basically write when I’ve time and when there is something meaningful to share.

Stephanie: At some point, it got too much. We were sending out window stickers, lobbying for new refill stations, manually adding refill stations to the map, etc. So last summer, we decided to change our approach. Louisa, Michael and me would still facilitate Refill Deutschland, but the communities would take care of themselves. We redesigned the website, altered texts and made it easier for others to add refill stations.

Wow! And how did that go?

Stephanie: It felt like letting go of my ‘baby’, but it went surprisingly smooth. The number of refill stations on our map is still growing, albeit a bit slower than at first.

ADDING REFILL STATIONS TO THE MAP

The refill stations are listed on the ‘Karte von Morgen’ map. How does this work?

Louisa: It is an open source app. On our website, you can add both public fountains as well as enterprises. By using 4 hashtags #refill #refill-station #trinkwasser #leitungswasser (tap water) users can find the refill station in the Karte von Morgen website or app (available in beta-version).

Can any venue be a refill station?

Stephanie: Some people wonder whether we should add restrictions. Could an 18+ adult store be a refill station? Or what about large coffeehouse chains, who serve all take-away drinks in single-use plastics? These are tricky questions. We decided not to take stands here. Everybody should be able to join the network. The more stations the better.

Louisa: Again, the community is self-supporting here. When people have bad experiences with a certain refill station, or when the refill station is not in use anymore they can give online feedback. Or even delete the station.

Refill stations and public fountains in Hamburg, Germany. Source: Karte von Morgen

I agree. You cannot control everything. Plus, people can always choose to not use certain refill stations. Last question: where do you think Refill Deutschland will be in five years?

Stephanie: I don’t know, I’ll be almost 60 years old by then! Let’s hope we do not need Refill Deutschland anymore. Because refilling and drinking tap water even at home has become completely normal.

Louisa: I would hope so, too. But nah, I think we’ll still be there informing and inspiring the public, because as with other sustainable changes, it probably needs more time sadly…

Cool! In the meantime, we’ll keep you up to date on the latest developments. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences, Stephanie and Louisa. Tschüss!

JOIN THE MOVEMENT

Refill Deutschland hardly uses promotional materials due to environmental concerns, so let us help them with a bit of promo here on this blog…

Do you have a venue in Germany and would you like to become a refill station too? Great! It is fairly simple:

  1. print/order your Refill Deutschland window sticker and optionally a poster;
  2. list your refill station on the map;
  3. invite thirsty refillers;
  4. (optional) add your refill station to other international refill apps, (read our blog for more information).

Follow Refill Deutschland on facebook

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REFILLME: A NEW REFILL PROJECT IN MYANMAR

Can you get a water refill in Myanmar? Yes you can! Today we want to inform you about a promising new refill project, situated in Yangon, Myanmar. Last year, three ambitious students founded RefillMe. Starting small, dreaming big. We just met and immediately became fans. Sit back and enjoy our interview with Haling Min Aung, co-founder of RefillMe.

INTERVIEW WITH HALING MIN AUNG, REFILLME (YANGON, MYANMAR)

Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your role at Refill Me Yangon?

Mingalarpar! My name is Haling Min Aung. I work in Earth Day Network Myanmar as an assistant manager, while also managing communications at RefillMe. Furthermore I am an activist educator in Yangon. I strongly believe that climate change should be taught in every school as the future of our Earth depends on our ability to take action.

Mingalarpar (what an amazing way to say hello)! Why and when did you start this project?

After completing an environmental studies program from the University of Yangon, we decided to tackle environmental issues in Myanmar by initiating projects. We initiated the first one, RefillMe, in November 2019.

So you already completed the first half year. We’ll talk more about the project soon. But first: who are ‘we’? Can you tell something about the team?

Sure! Other team members are my classmates from the environmental studies program. My teammate Aung Pyi Soe coordinates the RefillMe project and fellow teammate Ye Myo Zaw conducts the refill pilot in Yangon.

The RefillMe team

That’s nice. Many environmental projects (including Refill Ambassadors) start with only one advocate, and RefillMe already has three. What did you do with the refill pilot in Myanmar? How did it go so far?

The refill pilot is carried out to address issues and challenges faced during the registration process of public refill stations. It is successfully done in two townships of Yangon by using observational study as a means for gathering information. Currently, we are working together with Thant Myanmar to map Yangon (Thant Myanmar is a non-profit organisation, aiming to reduce the use and dependency on single-use plastics).

Very smart, we highly recommend people to team up with other NGO’s and (local) action groups. Together, we can create more awareness. What kind of bottles do people use when they refill in Myanmar?

Refillers use aluminium bottles, stainless steel bottles and polycarbonate bottles. Reusing PET bottles is also common in Myanmar.

TAP WATER IN MYANMAR

Mmm, just like we do in the Netherlands. Here we drink directly from the tap. How is tap water quality in Myanmar? Do local people drink tap water? Or do you drink with filters?

There is strict regulation for water quality that is supplied, however water quality varies from region to region. Factors like flooding, lack of safe water storage, old infrastructures and pipes affect the water quality. That is why people don’t drink right out of the tap. Households use filter or boil the water for consumption.

Water ATM, Yangon

Good to know. Another question: is there plastic deposit on plastic bottles in Myanmar? How is the plastic recycling infrastructure?

To our knowledge, there is no formal plastic deposit on bottles in Myanmar but you can get some cash back by selling plastic bottles to waste collectors. Recycling activities in Myanmar are carried out mostly by the informal sector, which includes scavengers, waste collectors, and waste dealers. These scavengers and waste collectors collect recyclable materials such as newspapers, books, cardboards, metal, plastic bottles, tin and glass from households, commercial areas and streets and in turn sell these items to waste dealers who clean and sell them to the recycling industry both locally and for export. We also have local plastic recycling start-ups and NGOs.

That sounds a bit chaotic but it can work. We think avoiding and reducing single-use plastics is better than recycling, but plastic-recycling can be useful to create new materials. And some people make a living out of it. We are curious to learn more about these recycling start-ups. And of course, to learn more about RefillMe, but we won’t steal any more time. Last question: what are your next steps?

We plan to look for new partners to facilitate our project expansion. RefillMe is more than just adding stations to reduce plastic consumption. Our team is using a more holistic approach to consider things like water quality, accessibility, affordability, and aesthetics which can help us accelerate progress towards UN Sustainable Development Goal 6 in Myanmar (clean water and sanitation). We dream about going beyond RefillMe project. Currently, we are working hard to launch two new projects in August.

Thank you so much Aung, we’re looking forward to hear more from you and your team!

STAY UP TO DATE ON REFILLME

Want to know more about RefillMe? Follow RefillMe on facebook or leave your message below. And if you happen to visit Myanmar, bring your empty bottle and pay attention to the refill stations. Join the #refillution!

All images in this blogs are provided by RefillMe.

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THE REMARKABLE STORY OF MYMIZU: JAPAN’S 1ST FREE WATER REFILL APP AND GLOBAL REFILL MOVEMENT       

Have you already heard of mymizu? If not, prepare yourself for a must-read. mymizu – Japan’s first free water refill app – was launched in September 2019. The app now displays almost 200.000 refill stations around the world, with new refill points being added every day. With around 20.000 app downloads. No kidding! And this is only the beginning. With the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games approaching, mymizu can lead to a global movement. Ready to get inspired? Read our interview with Robin Lewis, co-founder at mymizu.

The mymizu co-founders: Mariko McTier (l) & Robin Lewis (r)

 INTERVIEW WITH MYMIZU CO-FOUNDER ROBIN LEWIS

 What is mymizu?

mymizu (“mizu” means water in Japanese) is Japan’s first free water refill app. My team and I are working to expand the service across Japan and the world, especially as we approach the Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

MYMIZU APP

That makes sense. In six months, the Olympic and Paralympic Games will attract millions of visitors. Visitors that will be responsible for a huge consumption of single-use plastics, like water bottles. Here mymizu can play a positive role. Is this also the reason why you started mymizu?

No. It all started with a trip to Okinawa, a beautiful cluster of islands in Japan that is known as a tropical paradise. My co-founder Mariko and I were blown away at how beautiful the beaches were, but as soon as we went off-the-beaten-track, we started finding more and more rubbish – especially plastic. I knew we were facing unprecedented levels of plastic waste in oceans globally, but seeing this hit home that it was also a major problem – even here, in Japan. It seemed totally crazy that we were paying so much money for something we didn’t really need (bottled water) and that this habit was having an enormous effect on our natural environment, and so we decided to try and stop the problem at the source.

Good thinking, we at Refill Ambassadors also feel tackling the problem at the source is the most effective way. This can be accomplished with adequate government policies, with the help of individuals, numerous zero-waste organisations and through refill apps like mymizu. How did you progress afterwards?

So, after several months of research, development and preparation, we launched the beta version of the mymizu app in September 2019. Within 4 months of launching, our app has been downloaded almost 20,000 times across 30 countries and have had over 1,500 refill points added by our users. We have also had hundreds of cafes, restaurants and hotels (including leading brands like Hilton Hotel and Patagonia) register on our platform as refill stations. We now display almost 200,000 refill points around the world, with new refill points being added every day – so you can you use the mymizu app anywhere in the world!

Amazing! Some plans take years to happen, your project already exceeded all expectations within a few months. How do you add new refill stations to the app? Is it free of charge?

Yes, it is free of charge! There is an “add refill spot” feature in the app, which allows users to add photos and other useful information about water stations. For refill partners (e.g. cafes, restaurants and hotels) – they just have to fill in a simple form on our website. We have new businesses registering every day, not just in Japan but even in Germany, Singapore and other countries too!

 Does mymizu earn any money? Do you sell anything or receive donations?

We ran a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter, and were blown away by the response. We hit our fundraising target within 48 hours and this helped to develop our app and educational programs. Since then, we have also received support from several foundations, corporations and governments to scale our service, but we are still looking for supporters to help us expand our mission in 2020. We also have had the honour of being awarded the iF World Design Award “Social Impact Prize 2019” which also was accompanied by some financial support.

Congratulations. We hope you’ll manage to get the financial means necessary to create an even bigger impact. mymizu may be Japan’s 1st free refill app, worldwide there are some others like RefillMyBottle, Closca, Tap and Refill. Do you collaborate with other refill apps  / refill organisations in the world?

We have had contact with several people working in the refill space, and are exploring collaboration opportunities as we speak! This is something we would love to do. We are also now collaborating with local governments, schools and universities to further this movement for sustainability.

WHO ARE THE PEOPLE BEHIND MYMIZU?

We would love to hear more about possible collaborations, so please keep us informed. On our blog, we are also write about the people behind refill organisations. Can you tell us something about the mymizu team?

Our team is a very diverse group, in terms of nationality, background and interests! We have engineers, designers, environmentalists, as well as marketing professionals, copywriters and so on. We have people from Japan, UK, New Zealand, Australia and China, just to name a few nationalities! This diversity is critical for us, as we try and make an impact in Japan and around the world.

 The mymizu team

Interesting. What about your own background? Who is Robin Lewis?

Sure! I’m half Japanese and half British, and grew up mainly between the UK and Japan. In 2011, the big earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan, leading to the Fukushima crisis, was a major turning point in my life. I spent several months in some of the worst affected areas (where my Japanese side of the family is originally from), and my time there made me question what is really important and fuelled my interest in sustainability, climate change and so on. I spent over half a decade working in humanitarian aid and international development after the earthquake, based in Japan but working in countries like Nepal, Haiti and Mozambique, mainly in post-disaster situations. I now work in the climate change space at an inter-governmental level, while also running mymizu, and an organisation called Social Innovation Japan.

Thank you for sharing your personal story. It seems you have a very busy schedule. Quite impressive you’re able to combine these different activities.

DREAMS AND NEXT STEPS @MYMIZU

Last question: what do you at mymizu dream of?

We dream about going beyond just water, and would love to extend the service to other products such as coffee and tea, for example! Our ultimate goal is to change consumer behaviour in Japan and more widely, and we see mymizu as just the first step in doing so.

Furthermore, we consider mymizu to not just be an app – it’s a movement. Education and in-person engagement are critical components of what we are trying to accomplish. In just the past 4 months, we have done over 50 talks and workshops at schools, universities and companies on themes such as sustainability and plastic consumption, and are using social media and other creative means to raise awareness of the plastics crisis. This is something that we will scale up going forward. We’re also excited to have recently established a mymizu team in Singapore and hope to roll out more local chapters going forward!

Thank you so much for sharing your personal story and plans with us. We are curious to find out where you and mymizu will be standing in one year from now. After the Olympic & Paralympic Games 2020. For now, we keep in touch so please keep us informed.

READY TO JOIN THIS MOVEMENT?

The mymizu app enables users to track their impact; specifically the CO2 emissions, bottles and money people save by refilling!  Mymizu’s first big target is to track the elimination of 1 MILLION bottles in 2020 (#1millionbottles challenge). They would love for you to track your impact and join them in this mission! So download the app (available on iOS and Android) and start refilling. The app is available in English and Japanese.

Read more about mymizu via their website, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and LinkedIn pages.

Connect with Robin Lewis on LinkedIn

Source images: mymizu.co

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RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL PERU: MORE THAN JUST A TOUR OPERATOR  

Today we focus on RESPONSible Travel Peru, a community-based tour operator (HQ in Cusco). While tourism contributes 10% of global GDP and accounts for one in 10 jobs worldwide, the industry’s use of key resources is growing equitably. Think about its generation of solid waste, including marine plastic pollution, loss of biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions. Tourists, tour operators, tourist accommodations and (local) governments are all responsible for this. And capable to change the industry.

That’s exactly what RESPONSible Travel Peru has been doing. During the past months, they organised several sustainability workshops throughout Peru. Including tips about how to become a refill station. We got curious and asked Daniel Muñoz all about it.

INTERVIEW WITH DANIEL MUÑOZ (D), EDITOR AT RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL PERU

Single-use plastics are still widely used in Peru. What are the biggest challenges?

D: There is a big culture around the use of disposable items. They are cheap, practical and available all over. Although the law against the use of plastic bags/cups, straws, styrofoam cups/boxes was approved last year, its enforcement is slow, and it is also being internalized in the minds of people at a very slow pace. There is still a hard-to-believe lack of consciousness among citizens and companies as well, but neither municipal government offices are doing their part (very few exceptions only). 

That is a shame. Some habits are not easily changed. Governmental rules and bans are a great help but not sufficient. Luckily, tourists and tourism facilities can make a change too. For the latter you organised several workshops. How did that go?

D: The workshops were held in various cities: Cusco, Urubamba, Puno city, Arequipa Coporaque, Nasca, Paracas, Lima, Huaraz and Chiclayo. We started months ago preparing ourselves via our own internal workshop (2 weeks) where, as a team, prepared the sustainability criteria and useful information to share with providers (transportation companies and drivers; agencies and guides; hotels and homestays; and communities that provide Community Based Tourism (CBT)). We contacted all the participants one by one, and asked them for collaboration in terms of conference rooms, snacks and lodging. 

So you managed to reach quite a lot of people. What kind of information did you share? How did your audience respond to the workshops?

D: The public was very participative. Also because we promoted participation within special segments of the workshop where we asked to mention problems faced in the area, as well as possible solutions. 

We started with an overview of global problems faced by the planet (global warming, SDGs, etc.). This was followed by a local overview and sustainable tourism approach. We explained who we are and our way to do stuff. Furthermore we looked at sustainability and tourism certifications (mostly Travelife). We gave a resume of sustainability criteria by sectors (as named above), and sustainability strategies. And then in detail about becoming refill stations.

CREATING NEW REFILL STATIONS IN PERU

That’s very good. In Peru refill stations are hard to find (and this increased our motivation to start Refill Ambassadors). For example in Cusco, there are so many hotels, bars, shops, restaurants and museums. The potential for new refill stations is huge! Let’s talk a bit more about your effort to create new water refill stations, since that is our main focus too. What worked well and what did not? Did you just ask your partners to become a refill station?

D: Yes, we started encouraging partners to implement refill stations at their businesses, first by means of the word through our workshops. That didn’t work out that well, only a couple did it right away, others only because we provided the water filters. But 25 other participants of the workshops filled out forms where they were requesting more information on how to become a refill station. So that was our next step.

We can imagine the concept of ‘becoming a refill station’ needs some more explanation before facilities actually join. Can you tell us in depth about this ‘next step’, how did you follow-up?

D: We implemented our own sustainability team, and already sent-out our first three newsletters sharing tips and relevant information, and a special one (with all the information related to refill stations) was launched as well. You can check this last one here (in Spanish). So far, about 30 new refill stations are on the way to be established.  

Tap water in Peru is not safe to drink. That means refill stations have to be equiped with some kind of water filter. Or they can be a large water tank (e.g. 20 L with deposit). Could you tell a bit more about the water filters you provided for some homestays? What type of filter is used?

This is the HUATTA family at their homestay in Taquile island, Titicaca lake (Nazava brand). A similar filter was provided to another homestay (coffee farmers) in Cusco, along our Coffee Route to Machu Picchu; and a third to a local restaurant in Cusco city with which we collaborate largely (they provide cooking lessons as part of our Meet-the-local activities).

It’s really great that you organised these workshops. And to see the effort is paying off. You at RESPONSible Travel Peru have become true experts while still continuously looking for improvements. Can you share some other sustainable travel tips?

Sure! Here are some tips we promote among our customers (we also posted about being environmentally responsible during a trip):

  • Travel light (and to use that space to bring donations).
  • Embrace the slow-travel philosophy. Really get to know the destination and meet the locals
  • Use ground transportation as much as possible (and to fly the least);
  • Bring reusable bottles and zero-waste kits
  • Eat local and slow food.

Daniel, thank you so much for your time and keep up the good work.

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RESPONSible Travel Peru is a community based tour operator since 2009. Its founders wanted to tackle ‘the problem of welfare projects and defined periods specific to non-profit organizations, which seek to train small entrepreneurs and rural communities, but that at the end of the management fail to achieve self-sufficiency’ (read more). Over the years, RESPONSible Travel Peru has become much more than a just a tour operator: they are a great source of inspiration for travellers, tourist facilities and other tour operators in the world.

All images provided by RESPONSible Travel Peru

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BEST PRACTICES: ZERO WASTE SOFIA

Restoring the public fountains in Bulgaria. That’s one of the main goals of Zero Waste Sofia. Their founder, corporate communications professional Simona Stiliyanova wants to create a movement and help everyone in Bulgaria to reduce their waste, from packaging to wardrobe. And she pays special attention to public fountains. We were really curious about this initiative, so we picked up the phone. 

INTERVIEW WITH SIMONA STILIYANOVA (S)

Why did you start Zero Waste Sofia?

S: Adopting a ‘zero waste lifestyle’ is something many of us dream about, but struggle to actually do it. Where do you even start? I managed to reduce my waste by about 60% and I wanted to document my successful and unsuccessful attempts to lead a more sustainable lifestyle, and that’s how Zero Waste Sofia was born. I want to show that living a little more “green” does not necessarily mean mixing up recipes with 400 exotic ingredients all day long. On the contrary – by implementing various small changes you can simplify your life and even save money and earn more time for yourself and your loved ones.

Can you tell us more about the specific ‘fountain project’?

S: Fountains of Bulgaria enables active people to stop using disposable plastic bottles and save money by giving them a map of all sources of free tap water near them. I am working to embed information about its quality, feedback for broken fountains and other initiatives too.

CAN YOU DRINK TAP WATER IN BULGARIA?

So we assume, tap water in Bulgaria is potable?

S: Yes, we are fortunate to live close to thousands of free sources of high quality drinking water. In Bulgaria, there is an old tradition for people to build drinking fountains. As a result of it, there are nearly 7,000 of them all over the country. However, nowadays our modern society is rapidly adopting the “throwaway” culture, putting the tradition on the shelf and sending nearly 5 million disposable plastic bottles to the landfill every day.

 I conducted a national research among 600 respondents, and found out why people use or do not use public fountains. The 3 main reasons for not using them were:

  • 89,4% of all interviewees consider that they do not have enough information about the quality of water
  • 64% do not use public fountains, because they are broken or dirty.
  • 54% do not know where to find them

That’s why I decided to go further in addition to the mapping. I partner with local civic organizations, contact municipalities to report broken fountains and encourage my readers to do so. And together with some other volunteers, we started to clean the fountains ourselves.

Oh yes, we read about that on Zero Waste Sofia. On September 14th, you joined with the Let’s clean Bulgaria together” event. Can you tell us more about this?

S: I am really happy that even it started small, it grew so quickly and was supported by many volunteers from all over the country, even two whole municipalities and bTV national television. For the clean-up we used only natural products as vinegar and baking soda. 

You already have 960 refill stations on your map. How do you add new fountains? Can bars and restaurants also sign up as a refill station?

S: I started to add fountains to the map myself. Nowadays hundreds of volunteers are helping me out by adding new fountains through the website form. Venues that provide tap/filtered water and welcome people to fill their water bottle for free can also join. You can already find some restaurants on the map.

FUNDING & SUPPORT FOR THE PROJECT

Do you get any financial support to do all this work?

S: No. Currently the project is ran without funding by volunteering efforts in our spare time. The project is working without a budget as a Google map since 2018 and it has already gained ambassadors, volunteers and public support, including national TV and other media features. To achieve higher impact and scale our solution we need to invest in a fully functional digital platform, water sampling and analysis and a strong awareness campaign. This year “Fountains of Bulgaria” even was ranked among 30 semi-finalists from over 500 projects across Europe challenging plastic waste in the European social innovation competition. As a part of it we visited a Social Innovation Academy in Turin where I attended many really useful workshops and met amazing people from all over Europe. Integral part of the team were my partner, who is also supporting me a lot with the project and my (then 2 months old) baby, who travels everywhere with me. :)) Thanks to the competition we also met our amazing coach, who is still supporting me with the project.

Last question: what is your ultimate goal? 

S: I want to start a national movement of tap water users and ambassadors – bringing tap water its credibility and public fountains back to life. A change in consumers’ mindsets and behaviour towards purchasing bottled water (in regions where water is drinkable). Hopefully we will achieve a system change – municipalities investing in the development of a strong public fountains infrastructure, instead of encouraging the usage of more single-use plastic bottles and looking for ways to recycle them. And of course the ultimate – legislation change – plastic bottles bans at key public places. 

READ MORE

The website Zero Waste Sofia is in Bulgarian (yes with a Cyrillic alphabet!), but that doesn’t stop us from being big fans (thank you Google Translate!). In our opinion, Simona is a true hero, and a talented photographer too. Check out the Zero Waste Sofia Instagram, and get inspired!

Do you have tips for Simona how she can grow the refill network in Bulgaria? Or do you want to become a volunteer or project partner? Please contact Simona at Simona@zerowastesofia.com.

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WATER KIOSKS & REFILL STATIONS IN AFRICA

Last week, the recent water crisis in Harare hit the news. Journalists report Zimbabwe’s capital has one week’s supply of clean water left. A very undesired situation, which we hope to be solved soon. Luckily, we also received positive messages from the African continent: The ITF-International Transformation Foundation is constructing new water kiosks and refill stations in Kenya and Rwanda. We asked 5 questions to Venuste Kubwimana, Secretary General at ITF.

INTERVIEW WITH VENUSTE (VENU) KUBWIMANA, ITF

1.      Can you tell us a bit about drinking water in your country?

In sub Saharan Africa access to safe drinking water is one of the main challenges to so many people. In 2013 ITF members worked together in their respective countries research project on “sustainable clean drinking water system”. The main insight gained was, all communities wished on an improved water system.

Most rural/poor communities do not have a working tap water system at all, prompting school-going children and women to walk very long distances to secure water from neighbouring communities’ wells/ rivers which is also dirty.

2.      How did you start this refill campaign?

Ironically in urban areas, the single use of plastic water bottles is common, since it is the only source of clean drinking water for those who can afford, but on the other hand it promotes littering within the cities.

That’s how our campaign with Join the Pipe started. With “a water kiosk at school” as the solution for rural/poor communities and “Public drinking tap water/refill stations” for urban areas.

Image: A Water Kiosk at School
Image: Youth Solutions Report 2019

3..      What is your role in this project? 

As ITF founder and Secretary General I’m ultimately responsible of the project. ITF is an international youth-led non-profit organization providing youth educational and self-development programs encompassing leadership and entrepreneurship to harness creativity for a youth system that provide jobs, offers security, opens opportunities to grow and contributes to the development of communities.

4. How many people have you reached so far?

Thus far we have built 12 water kiosks in community-based schools across Kenya and Rwanda providing clean drinking tap water and sanitation to 6541 students and 120358 community residents.  Furthermore, the water bottle bikes are still being used.

Image: Join the Pipe

 5.       Really cool. Last question! Do you have tips how people in Africa can reduce the amount of single-use-plastic bottles?

I think companies that sell water and sodas are the biggest distributors of single use plastic bottles.  It’s very evident in our drainage systems when it floods it is plastic bottles from these companies that float all over. If these companies adopted multi-use plastic bottles then that would reduce the pollution or they could have a recycle program for these bottles.

Otherwise it is up to us consumers to boycott these companies and their single use plastic as now although not many as needed there are option/alternative for tap water refill stations that promote usage of multi-use bottles.

READ MORE

Venuste Kubwimana is an award-winning youth activist and social entrepreneur based in Rwanda and Kenya. Do you want to get to know Venuste? Check out his website.

Find more pictures on facebook.

Do you have tips or questions for Venuste? Leave your comment behind!

 

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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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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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