NEW! REFILL ITALIA (REFILL ITALY)

Italy is Europe’s 1st country when it comes to bottled water consumption per capita and the world’s 3rd country (after Mexico and Thailand). Therefore we are extremely pleased to inform you about Europe’s latest refill program: Refill Italia (Refill Italy)! Last year, they launched in close collaboration with Refill.org.uk. What are they up to? And how can you help? We spoke with Margeritha Cavalleri, co-founder of Refill Italia.

INTERVIEW WITH MARGERITHA CAVALLERI (M)

Why did you start this project?

M: Enrica and I both felt this kind of project was lacking in Italy, and it was time to make a real difference. We know each other for over twenty years so it was really nice we could start this project together.

Nice! Bottled water consumption in Italy is huge, so we’re glad you two initiated this refill project. Why did you decide to collaborate with Refill?

M: We prefer to collaborate instead of reinventing the wheel. By working with Refill we can learn from their >3 years of experience in the field. The Refill app works well and it saves us a lot of time and money because we don’t need to build our own app.

Italy is a large country, where do you start?

M: We are going to focus in Lombardy first, using Milano, our city, as a pilot project. But we really hope Refill Italia will widespread fast, reaching all other regions.

How do you finance this project?

M: At the moment we do all the work voluntarily, next to our regular jobs. Of course it is quite a challenge and sometimes it is hard to find the time, but when you are driven by passion and enthusiasm…

You must be very motivated! We face the same challenges at Refill Ambassadors, we do all the work for fun (free), and combine this with our own regular jobs. How many refill stations have you added so far?

M: Around 600 in the first four months. In England more than 22.000 Refill Station have been registered in the App so far.

That’s a very good start. We hope more Italians will add refill stations soon. What are your next steps?

M: We have great ambitions! We want to reach public places with a huge number of people on the road and water bottles on the go, such as metro and train stations!

Last question: how can people help you with Refill Italia?

M: We are in constant need for volunteers who want to help, by spreading the voice and involving bars, restaurants and owners of public spaces. To have more information just contact us at info@refillitalia.org

HELP REFILL ITALIA TO GROW

Alright Italians and tourists, we got a mission: bring your reusable bottle and look out for refill stations. If you cannot find any in the Refill app (or another refill app you may be using), try to encourage bars, restaurants and shops to become a refill station. Ask if you may add them to the Refill app, so other people know the new refill place exist.

Visit the Refill Italia website to learn more about the project. Use the hashtag: #REFILLit

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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.

LEARN MORE

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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AMSTERDAM OPEN TAP CHALLENGE

On a beautiful sunny autumn day, refill ambassadors Hella and Félice went for an “open tap challenge” In the city center of Amsterdam: would venues open their tap for people, passengers of all kinds, just to have their water bottles filled? And so we approached cafe, boutique shop and supermarket staff. 

    

Besides improving ourselves each time at enthusing merchants of their potential in reducing single use plastics, we got to know this lovely quarter better. What a high density of coffee shops!

Many people we spoke with supported Refill Ambassadors’ ideas, but they  would need to check with their bosses if we could paste a “Refill” window sticker, or add their site to the “Refill” app to chart free water points. Some merchants did not hesitate to join the refillution – no big deal; tap water is for everyone!

We could say our challenge was a success by adding 5 new refill stations – free water points for everyone. People who cross a doorstep for a refill may just as well become customers!

WELCOME, NEW REFILL STATIONS:

  1. Café Gollem
  2. Urban Cacao
  3. Rapha
  4. kopjethee.NL
  5. Dimply Delights

WHO’S NEXT?

Thank you for spreading our tasty water to the people. Do you own a bar, café, restaurant or shop and do you want to open your tap to the public? Become a refill station! Please contact us, so we can help you.

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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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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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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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