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50 Fountains Challenge

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall backs call for local areas to provide 50 working public drinking fountains
50 Fountains Challenge

City to Sea, founders of the award-winning Refill campaign, and food and farming charity Sustain have joined forces to call for a new wave of drinking fountains to meet the needs of a thirsty nation and reduce plastic pollution caused by single-use water bottles.

Launched today (25 Sept), the 50 Fountains Challenge is calling for local authorities, community groups and fountain companies to work together to install a network of publicly accessible fountains across the UK.

‘A no-brainer’

As a nation we have taken a seismic leap in prioritising plastic reduction, with more consumers than ever concerned about the issue and taking steps to reduce their personal consumption. Still, sales of bottled water continue to increase, with an estimated 7 billion used every year in the UK.

‘Accessible free drinking water for people on the go is a no-brainer when it comes to kicking some single-use plastic out of our lives. And if it means you choose water to quench your thirst instead of a sugary drink, your body will thank you for it too.

‘The guidelines and toolkit set up by Sustain and City to Sea are helpful and clear. I look forward to a time when buying bottled water is no longer the easier thing to do.’

River Cottage

Access to water refills

Since 2015, City to Sea has campaigned to increase accessibility to free drinking water through its award-winning Refill Campaign.

The organisation has now created a network of more than 23,000 Refill Stations across the UK where thirsty people can access free drinking water using the location-based Refill app, which recently hit 250,000 downloads.

It’s estimated the campaign will have prevented more than 100 million plastic bottled by the end of 2019.

‘At City to Sea, we want to see greater availability of free drinking water to enable people to stay hydrated, save money and most importantly prevent plastic pollution caused by the millions of single-use plastic water bottles used in the UK. There are now over 25,000 Refill Stations listed on the free Refill app and we’re looking forward to the app becoming the go-to for finding drinking water fountains as well.

‘We know from speaking to our partners and the 300+ local Refill Schemes across the country that there is a real thirst to replace or install fountains in communities, town centres, walking routes and schools.’

CEO of City to Sea

Benefits of drinking fountains

Drinking fountains have gone out of fashion since their Victorian heyday, but with more people wanting drinks on the go, some local authorities and communities have been working hard to bring them back. There are already 344 fountains listed on the free Refill app.

With approximately 400 local authorities across the UK, the potential to increase accessibility to drinking water is huge. If they all committed to having 50 public fountains over the next 10 years, we would have around 20,000 drinking water fountains across the UK.

‘As a country we should be able to step up and tackle problems as we face them. Convenience has led to the rise of plastic bottles, so we must ensure that the healthy, environmentally friendly options are more accessible, affordable and attractive than the alternatives. This is why we need hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands of drinking fountains over the coming years, up and down the land. They offer a relatively cheap solution compared to the costs to our NHS of diet related disease and the clean-up costs of plastic pollution which burden the taxpayer and wreck the environment.’

Deputy chief executive of Sustain

Where drinking fountains are introduced, they have huge potential to reduce single-use plastic.

A drinking water fountain at London King’s Cross has been used over 220,000 times since 14 February 2019.

Network Rail has helped prevent more than two million plastic water bottles over the last year by installing free station water fountains across its network.

New fountains from Bristol Water are saving Bristolians half a million pounds a year and the bottles saved would stretch 50 miles.

Fountains and health

Water fountains don’t just benefit the environment, they provide an easy alternative to sugary drinks as well.

‘Dentists see the damage sugary and acidic soft drinks do every day. Brits consume over 200 litres of them a year, delivering a triple whammy to their teeth, wallets and waistlines. Expanding our network of water fountains is a no-brainer, offering refreshment with no sugars, no plastics and at no cost to the consumer.’

British Dental Association chair

With children consuming three times the amount of recommended sugar, and almost a quarter of sugar consumed by teenagers coming from sugary drinks, a new wave of drinking fountains – particularly in child-friendly locations – could play a useful role in tackling the childhood obesity crisis.

‘Choosing water as our main drink helps ensure healthy hydration and with most of us on-the-go, drinking fountains are a great option to top up without getting any sugar or extra calories. The Refill Scheme has already shown good potential for encouraging the free availability of drinking water and these fountains will further support the work being done to promote further roll-out.

‘Creating a healthy environment is a key responsibility in town planning decisions and we hope to see local authorities signing up to this challenge to show that they care about the wellbeing of individuals and communities.’

Honorary chair, British Dietetic Association

MIW, a leading water fountain supplier and consultee of the guidance, has donated two state-of-the-art fountains, which will be awarded to two schemes that sign up to the challenge in the first three months. They’ll be judged on the impact a fountain would have in their area on a social and environmental level.

Click here to register interest and to outline your commitment to the 50 Fountains Challenge.

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