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World Water Day: Action urged on plastic water bottles

news release

Friends of the Earth and City to Sea are today marking World Water Day by urging politicians, companies and the public to help reduce plastic pollution caused by the billions of single-use plastic water bottles used in the UK every year.

• Around 14 billion plastic bottles were estimated to be used in the UK in 2018.

• Billions of these are plastic water bottles – 7.7 billion it was estimated in 2017. 

• Every single day, it’s been estimated that around 16 million plastic bottles in the UK are not recycled, which means they will end up in landfills, incinerators or our natural environment. 

These bottles result in needless waste that blights our environment and threatens our wildlife: they are one of the most commonly found, identifiable plastics on UK beaches. 

Friends of the Earth and City to Sea are urging politicians, companies and individuals to play their part in reducing the impact of plastic water bottles by:

• Reuse through Refill 
Refilling water bottles can play a major part in reducing the problem. Consumers and businesses alike can use City to Sea’s free Refill app – the first of its kind. The ground-breaking app’s geo-located database offers over 30,000 places where people can refill their water bottles when they are out and about in the UK, and it is now expanding to cover countries around the world. 

It’s estimated that the Refill campaign has already saved over 100 million plastic bottles entering our waste stream. City to Sea estimates that if 1 in 10 Brits refilled just once a week around 340 million plastic bottles a year would be saved.

UK drinking water is of the highest standard, and among the best in the world.

• Increase drinking water fountains and water refill locations
Local authorities, transport hubs and businesses can all play their part in the expansion of water fountains and water refill facilities to make it easier for people to refill their water bottles when they are out and about – and save money.

City to Sea have produced a comprehensive tool kit that provides a step-by-step guide on how to safely install water fountains.

• The inclusion of all sizes of plastic bottles in a comprehensive Deposit Return Scheme to boost recycling  
The government is due to shortly consult on a Deposit Return Scheme for England, which is due to begin in 2023.  Friends of the Earth and City to Sea are calling for government to introduce an ‘all in’ scheme that includes all plastic drinks containers of all sizes – as well as glass bottles, aluminum cans and cartons. 

A German scheme for plastic, glass and metal drink containers has seen recycling hit 97%.

A DRS scheme in Scotland is due to begin in July 2022, and will include PET plastic drinks bottles, aluminium and steel cans and glass bottles. 

While the introduction of a DRS scheme is welcome, it is important that that waste reduction measures are not ignored. More must be done to cut waste in the first place and boost refill and re-use.

• The government to set new laws to drastically reduce plastic pollution
Friends of the Earth and City to Sea are calling on the government to include legally-binding targets to reduce plastic pollution in its flagship Environment Bill.

New UK laws are being written in the Environment Bill right now: Friends of the Earth and City to Sea are calling on the government to seize this historic opportunity to set overarching plastics reduction targets that truly turn the tide on plastic pollution. As highlighted by the 46 signatories of a letter to Boris Johnson on this issue earlier this year, including Friends of the Earth and City To Sea, legally-binding plastics reduction targets would reduce the harm that plastic pollution is causing to wildlife, human health and the environment.

Friends of the Earth plastic campaigner Camilla Zerr said:
“Billions of single-use plastic water bottles are produced in the UK every year – many of which end up littering our environment and clogging up our waterways.

“But it doesn’t need to be like this, especially as the UK has top quality drinking water available from the tap. By saying no to bottled water and refilling from a tap or water fountain, we can all help stem the tide of plastic pollution – and save money.

“Reuse and refill should be part of plans to build back greener after the pandemic. Businesses, councils and the government must do more to ensure people have free and easy access to water.

“The forthcoming Deposit Return Schemes should also lead to fewer bottles blighting our environment – but they must cover all plastic bottles of every size.

“But bottles are just a small part of the plastics crisis. The government must set targets to reduce plastic pollution in the Environment Bill which is expected back in Parliament in May.”

Steve Hynd, City to Sea’s Policy Manager said: 
“Single-use plastic water bottles now make up over half of all plastic bottle sales in the UK. The plastic pollution that this causes can be seen on our riverbanks and on our beaches for all to see.

“Although there are measures in the pipeline that will start to address this, like the long-promised deposit return scheme, we are today urging government, businesses and consumers to step up and do what they can immediately.

“We urgently need more public water fountains, we need more businesses willing to offer free water refills and we need more consumers to start carrying a water bottle that they can Refill on the go instead of buying single-use bottles. Change is happening, in law and in consumer behaviour, but we need everyone to be pushing for more to happen faster.”


For more information and interview requests contact the Friends of the Earth press office on 020 7566 1649 / 07718 394786 (out of hours – please do not text this number) or by emailing OR Steve Hynd,
Policy and Media Manager at City to Sea: 07903 569531 or

Notes to editors

Plastic bottles and the environment
On average, 14 billion plastic bottles are used each year in the UK [2018 – Statista]

7.7 billion plastic water bottles are estimated to be used in the UK every year [The Environment Audit Committee reported in 2017 that “We heard that, of the 13 billion plastic bottles used each year, 7.7 billion are plastic water bottles.”

In 2019 almost two thirds [64.6%] of bottled water was “still” water, 5.2 % was “table” water and 30.2% was sparkling [The British Soft Drinks Association].

Around 16 million plastic bottles every day are not recycled and as such will likely end up in landfills, incinerators or our natural environment. [RECOUP: UK Household Plastics Collection Survey 2019]
Bottles are one of the most commonly found items on UK beaches – making up 5% by item, and a staggering 42% by weight [Eunomia/ Friends of the Earth report, p15]

A 1 litre single-use plastic water bottle takes over 8 litres of water to produce [Seas at Risk report]

Covid, health and refill
In the UK our drinking water is of the highest standard, and among the best in the world (Water UK)

Ongoing Covid restriction may mean that current opportunities and facilities for refill are limited, and people should follow government advice with regard to health and safety.  Friends of the Earth and City to Sea want more refill and less plastic waste to be part of plans for building back greener after the pandemic.

City to Sea has produced hygiene advice for Refill Stations here and specific advice for water fountains here.

City to Sea alongside Sustain have produced a comprehensive tool kit that provides guidance for organisations, groups and businesses who are looking to install water fountains for the benefit of their local community

The theme for World Water Day 2021 is valuing water:

About Friends of the Earth: Friends of the Earth is an international community dedicated to the protection of the natural world and the wellbeing of everyone in it. We bring together more than two million people in 75 countries, combining people power all over the world to transform local actions into global impact. For more information visit: follow us at @friends_earth, or like our Facebook page

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