#SustainableSaturdays – Reuse, Recycle, Refill

#SustainableSaturdays – Reuse, Recycle, Refill

Martin Dorey is the founder of the #2minutebeachclean movement. He’s a surfer, writer and green activist. His mission is to see every surf, beach walk, SUP, kayak or kitesurf end with a #2minutebeachclean. It’s happening slowly. To help him along we’ve given over our Sustainable Saturdays to his ranting ways. 

Water load of rubbish!

Let’s talk water. It’s the stuff of life. It’s what gives us our ocean playground, what keeps us alive, what makes our planet tick. Without it we are nothing.

So, yes, big subject. Very big subject.

For this week’s #sustainablesaturdays I want to talk about one aspect of that – and that’s the water we drink. Later I’ll tell you about an absolutely stunning scheme that is spreading fast and some inspiring people that are making a difference. But before I get onto the good news stuff let’s think about how absurd it is that H2O has become a multi-billion pound industry, just in the UK alone. We pay a pound or so for a bottle of water that’s come from some mineral-rich cavern in some hills in some far flung country because – as we have been led to believe – it tastes better and is better for us than that stuff that comes out of the tap at home.

The stuff of life has become a commodity.

There are some who have a big problem with this because we should all have access to clean drinking water. It is a basic human right to have access to clean water and healthy sanitation, surely? But there are some – let’s call them The Big Food Corporation – that believe ‘the privatisation of water is the answer to global water issues’. These guys get the rights to suck it up and sell it on while, locally, others suffer. Is that right? I don’t think so. But it’s not the focus of my fury.

The problem I have is that it’s been bottled up and transported and sold – and fortunes have been created – without any thought for the wasteful way in which it’s done.


The waste of the water bottle

Water bottles – and we are talking single use PET plastic bottles – are one of the most commonly found items when I go to the beach. There are always a few to stick under the leash on the way back home. The MCS recently released their 2015 Big Beach Clean statistics and it showed that their volunteers found, on average 98.6 plastic bottles per kilometre of beach surveyed. OK, so not all of them were water bottles but what does it matter when you do the maths? Times 98.6 by the length of the British coastline, which is approximately 17,820 km (according to the OS) and what do you get? Potentially, there could be 1.75 million plastic bottles littering our shores today, right now. And they just keep coming. The UK consumed about 3 billion litres of bottled water in 2015 and yet we only recycled about 30% of the bottles it came in. Where do they go? The majority of them go to landfill, we hope, but a few will escape down our rivers, out of our car windows, down our drains and off our cruise ships (oops) and make their way into our oceans. And from there they find their way on to your favourite beach, if they don’t break down into microplastics and end up in your fish and chips first.

What a waste of good plastic! We buy water (or any kind of pop) and we drink it and then we throw away the bottle. It’s so absurd it’s laughable. Each bottle is made from oil – which is running out fast – and yet the big drinks companies oppose bottle deposit schemes and prefer to use virgin plastic for their bottles, which means the market for post-consumer PET is smaller than it should be. Incidentally in countries like Germany, where they already have bottle deposit schemes, the recycling rates are around 90%. In the UK, as I have already said, our rates are about 30%. Frankly I am surprised that the plastic companies aren’t queuing up to take our marine-grade, post-consumer plastic off us when we clean the beaches. It’s fast becoming a free natural resource there is so much of it. Why aren’t they working hard to make its reuse affordable and practical?

But no, it’s easier (and makes them more money) to use up the new stuff, use up fossil fuels to transport it half way around the world and then wail about how the new stuff is running out. What a dumbass.

But mineral water tastes better

Well, maybe your eau de bull tastes better to you. But get over yourself. Unless your water supply is contaminated, there is nothing wrong with tap water. Everything else is dressing up and selling you something you don’t need. Unless of course you need mineral extracts, added whizz and a lot of marketing blather. In blind tasting tests some time ago, London water (yes that stuff people will tell you has been through another 7 Londoners before it gets to you) came out third among 24 bottle waters in a blind tasting by top sommeliers. First came a mineral water from New Zealand that costs £9 a bottle and second was a bog standard EU based brand that costs £39p a litre. Go figure.

I once did my own blind testing too. Years ago I worked in the film industry. One of my jobs was to ensure that my very fussy and (apparently) very sensitive boss got her tea made with expensive mineral water. She claimed it was because of the taste. We refilled her bottle with tap water almost every day, wherever we were filming in the country. Did she ever notice? I rest my case.

The argument for tap water

If you live in the UK, then your tap water is 99.96% compliant with European water safety standards. It gets tested for quality every day and gets piped straight into your home or business. If there is an issue with it then it gets cut off and alternatives are provided. The cost of it is around 420 – 500 times less than bottled water, which means a UK resident who drinks bottled water each day could save hundreds of pounds each year.

But if it tastes awful to you? Buy a water filter. Fill it up. Keep it in the fridge. Hey presto!

The world’s very best drinking water for a lot less than a penny a litre…..

Refill and refill and refill again

One day in 2014 in a beach hut not so very far from where I am sitting now, an idea was conceived by Deb Rosser of Bude Sea Pool and Neil Hembrow of Keep Britain Tidy’s Beach Care scheme. Between them they concocted a plan to raise funds for the sea pool while also helping to alleviate the issue with single use plastic bottles on the beach. The idea was to sell reusable water canteens and then ask café, shop and restaurant owners to offer no-questions-asked, smile-on-the-face, FREE refills of tap water. Its beauty is its simplicity and so far the sea pol have sold around a thousand bottles, so helping to keep the pool open and reduce the amount of single-use bottles needed and sold in Bude. Beach Care have since started a similar scheme in Polzeath. The schemes make people think about where they get their water and how they might make changes themselves.


The refill goes nationwide

Natalie Fee was one of those people who was deeply inspired by the scheme. She decided to take it up to Bristol where she had been doing work to clear up the Avon Gorge (among other places). After lots of hard work, blood, sweat and tears, Refill Bristol was launched in September 2015. In just a few months they had over 200 refill sites in and around the city displaying the ‘refill here’ stickers, with more joining all the time. They have estimated a very conservative 6000 refills a month (this is each station doing one a day), which equals 72,000 refills a year. That’s a lot of bottles not going to landfill, down the Avon Gorge and on to our beaches.

Since the launch Nat has been approached by lots of other cities looking to set up similar schemes, including Birmingham, Brighton, Bath and Bournemouth so it looks like it’s going nationwide. They are bringing out an app very soon to pinpoint refill locations.

The idea is so very simple but its brilliance lies in the fact it makes it OK to ask for water again. We’ve been cornered by industry into buying bottled water when we shouldn’t have to. Now, thanks to people like Nat, Deb and Neil we can ask for it – and be given it freely – by people who aren’t going to judge us.

That’s the stuff of life.


And an honest declaration of interest…

In 2015 the #2minutebeachclean, our unfunded organisation – that we run for nothing in our own time – accepted a £1000 grant from Powerful Water to rebuild our website. While this might seem like hypocrisy in view of what I have just written (and was an agonising decision to make –  like doing porn to get our movie career off the ground), one of our points of discussion was that we thought the company should put a strong recycling message on their bottles. As a result of this they changed the bottle to be 100% recyclable (it wasn’t before) and added the message. It is the biggest recycling message on any single use bottle we know of and in that respect, makes them industry leaders. Our logic was that, in working with the industry to encourage recycling, we can help to make things better rather than just criticise. If recycling rates go up it’s less on the beach for us to pick up. We can’t stop them from making their product but we can encourage them to do it the best way possible. If we had refused to work with them nothing would have changed.

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