Across the UK, people are still not using reusable water bottles. After Blue Planet II showed the horrors of plastic pollution, it seemed as though a change could be around the corner. Driven to make a difference by the images shown on the programme, a wave of plastic-consciousness washed over Britain, but unfortunately, the shock has not been enough to make people commit to change in the long-term.
Single-use plastics are a huge problem in Britain. As a nation, we produce nearly 5million tonnes of plastic waste a year. Plastic bottles contribute to a huge percentage of that waste, with around 38.5million plastic bottles being used each day, and just over half making it into the recycling. As such, a nationwide push to encourage the use of reusable water bottles has taken place. Water fountains and water bottle refill points have popped up across the country. Apps that inform you of the nearest refill point have been created, all in an attempt to cut down on single-use plastic bottle usage.
Unfortunately, though, awareness does not seem to have translated into action. While many individuals pledged to make a change – only 36% of people admit to carrying a reusable bottle. According to Brita, and Keep Britain Tidy, the percentage of people who feel guilty about purchasing a single use plastic bottle is even worse. Only 31% of people would feel guilty for buying a plastic bottle – even if it could only be used once. This is the mindset that needs to change. Responsibility and guilt should be felt by all those unwilling to change. If single-use plastic consumption does not slow down, the Earth and its environment will pay.
Out of the group surveyed by Brita and Keep Britain Tidy, just over half owned a reusable water bottle. With 55% of people owning one, but only 36% using them, there is some work needed to be done to encourage people to actually use them. As for the other half surveyed, more needs to be done to educate these people on how important reusable bottles are.
There are possible reasons as to why people buy single-use bottles though. It’s not just that people don’t care about the environment. Firstly, carrying around a water bottle all day can be heavy, if people are rushing on the go, they want a drink they can take with them, then throw away. Rather than committing to carrying it all day. In our opinion, this is lazy – but we do understand if you’re rushing around all day. However, there are some great light-weight bottles, so why not invest in one of those?
Alternatively, another reason people may not be using reusable bottles is struggling to find somewhere to fill them up. One of the main reasons people say they buy bottled water is for long journeys – around 63% of people. This suggests that there could be a lack of water options such as refill points at transport hubs across the country. Providing free water fountains and refill spots in train stations and tube stations could help combat this, and diminish the need for single-use bottles.
“We have been sleepwalking through convenience into a culture where we want what we want when we want it, and not really thinking about the impact and the consequences, and that has to stop. I think our children will look back at this moment in horror and look back on the way that we were behaving.We have to start living sustainably and think about reintroducing water fountains.” says Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Ogden-Newton.
Another key reason as to why people are still using single-use bottles so often is shame… 7/10 feel guilty or awkward about asking to get their bottle refilled without buying something else. It’s a legal requirement for cafes, restaurants and bars to provide free drinking water – but if people aren’t purchasing anything else, there is a stigma attached for being a cheapskate, or not supporting that business by purchasing something too.
Around 27% said they felt awkward asking for their bottle refilled, even when buying something. Changing the attitudes towards people asking for water refills will be the main way to tackle this. Educating people so that they know they are well within their rights to have access to free water and get their bottle refilled, will hopefully make them feel less awkward or rude asking.
Keep Britain Tidy chief executive, Allison Ogden-Newton also said: “Too many people still find it challenging to fill up on the go, while many more are still embarrassed to ask for tap, worried about the safety of water fountains, or just unwilling to go the extra mile and carry around a reusable bottle.
Unfortunately for the environment, it seems the hassle is just too much to outweigh the benefits. A sad fact of reality is that if we don’t crack down on single-use plastic, our oceans will be overrun by it, and wildlife and eco-systems will suffer as a result. If tap water was widely available across the UK for free, which it will be in the near future – it is then up to the people to make a change. If the water is there, people have to make an effort to refill their bottles and choose plastic alternatives.
Getting to a stage where everybody has a reusable water bottle and uses them daily needs to be the norm. Managing Director of Brita UK, Sarah Taylor, said, “What’s clear is that there is much more we can all do to help people swap for good to things like refillable bottles and reduce their single-use plastic footprint, whether that is reassuring them about the safety of water fountains or making it as easy as possible to fill up and stay hydrated on the go.”
By educating, reassuring and providing valid alternatives, we can all reduce the need for single-use plastic bottles. In the meantime, read our previous posts on plastic straw alternatives.