London Mayor Plans Water Fountains, Refill Stations to Cut Plastic Bottle Use

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The UK appears to be getting serious about single-use plastics.

It's hard to tell for sure from this side of the pond, but it really does seem like the issue of single-use plastics and plastic waste has captured the UK imagination of late. Whether it's the Secretary of State for the Environment citing Blue Planet II as inspiration for a tax on single-use plastics, or a childcare center banning glitter to reduce its impact on aquatic environments, this island nation appears to finally be having a serious conversation about how its plastic consumption habits might impact the oceans that surround it.

The latest suggestion of an (ahem) sea change is news—reported over at The Guardian—that London's mayor Sadiq Khan is planning a network of water fountains and bottle refill stations across the capital to help reduce plastic bottle use. Alongside a push to install water fountains in public parks and other locations, the mayor will also ask more businesses to make their tap water available to the public, following the model of app-based refill schemes that have launched in several communities across the UK, having started in my native Bristol. (Of course!)

It goes without saying, however, that trends come and trends go. So I'm not trying to suggest that Britain is turning the corner on plastics pollution just yet. After all, a quick search on TreeHugger reveals that Sadiq Kahn's predecessor Boris Johnson—now the country's foreign secretary—also planned a revival of Victorian water fountains, but those plans never came to fruition.

There is reason to hope, however, that this time will be different.

From Freiburg's multi-store reusable, returnable coffee cup scheme to Seattle's efforts to eliminate 2 million plastic drinking straws, it's perhaps most encouraging to see the idea of plastic waste reduction move from a conversation about personal virtue, and instead toward the idea of cultural norms and collective solutions. After all, it's only through such community- and nation-wide schemes that we can really start to tackle the systemic nature of our disposable waste problem.