The 50 Fountains Challenge launches to help fight plastic pollution in the UK

City to Sea, founders of the award-winning Refill campaign, and food and farming charity Sustain have joined forces to prevent plastic pollution. They are calling for a new drench of drinking fountains to be installed across the UK, to meet the needs of a thirsty nation and reduce the number of single use water bottles in circulation.

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The 50 Fountains Challenge is launching this week. 

It is a call to local authorities, community groups and fountain companies to work together to install a network of publicly accessible fountains across the UK. 

The 50 Fountains Challenge is also open to food partnerships, local refill centres and anyone else looking to:   

  • Publicly commit to the target of installing 50 working drinking fountains in their locality (with an interim 3-year target)  
  • Map their existing public drinking fountains on the Refill app 
  • Install new public drinking fountains to reach the target.   

On doing this they will receive further information on how the challenge will work. 

Groups are asked to register their interest, then outline their commitment.  

Environmental not-for-profit, City to Sea, and sustainable food and farming charity, Sustain, have just published a toolkit for anyone looking to install a drinking fountain. It contains advice on funding, support and case studies of those who have done it.

“Accessible free drinking water for people on the go is a no brainer”

River Cottage‘s Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, has spoken out in support of this campaign, saying that: 

“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 tool kit 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”.   

If this is an issue that really matters to you, then contact your local authority. Bring the campaign to their attention and encourage them to get involved.

Why are water fountains so important?

Sales of bottled water are increasing in the UK, with a shocking, estimated 7 billion used every year.   

As a nation we have taken a seismic leap in prioritising plastic reduction. More consumers than ever are concerned about the issue, and are taking steps to reduce their personal consumption.  

Drinking fountains had fallen out of fashion since their Victorian heyday. Yet, with more people wanting drinks on the go, several local authorities and communities have been working hard to bring them back:

  • There are already 344 water 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 each one committed to installing 50 public fountains over the next 10 years, we would have around 20,000 drinking water fountains across the UK.  

Leading water fountain supplier MIW have donated two state-of-the-art-fountains which will be awarded to two schemes who sign up to the challenge in the first three months. They’ll be judged according to the social and environmental impact a fountain would have in their area.

“Drinks bottles have been identified as one of the most common pieces of ocean plastic.”

Mike Winter, MD of MIW Water Cooler Experts who are backing the challenge, said: “The problem of waste plastic has been globally recognised as one of the most pressing environmental issues. Drinks bottles have been identified as one of the most common pieces of ocean plastic. UK adults use around 150 bottles each and every year. Using refillable drinks bottles will not solve the plastic problem alone, but there’s no denying the impact it could make if we all got on board. But the infrastructure needs to be there to support that move.”  

Where drinking fountains are introduced their potential to reduce single use plastic is massive: 

  • A drinking water fountain at London King’s Cross has been used over 220,000 times since 14 February 2019.  
  • Network Rail have helped prevent more than two million plastic water bottles over the last year by installing free station water fountains across their network.  
  • New fountains from Bristol Water are saving Bristolians half a million pounds a year and the bottles saved would stretch 50 miles. 

“I have daily conversations with people asking what is the one change they can make to reduce plastic and I always say to refill”

But it isn’t just the environment that benefits, since fountains provide an easy alternative to Melissa Hemsley drinks. Children are currently consuming three times their recommended amount of sugar. A new wave of drinking fountains, particularly in child friendly locations, could play a huge role in tackling the child obesity crisis.  

Melissa Hemsley, founder of the Sustainability Sessions said: “I have daily conversations with people asking what is the one change they can make to reduce plastic and I always say to refill but I’m aware it needs to be as easy as possible to access water on the go. I am overjoyed to see the 50 Fountains Challenge as it means more and more fountains will be installed. If we keep asking, sharing where they are on the Refill app and using a refillable bottle then we can make a difference together.” 

Want to find other ways to drink more sustainably?

Try out some of these delicious drinks before the summer is out 

Need something to put your free fresh fountain water in?

Here are 5 of the best plastic free reusable water bottles.