AROUND 2,000 plastic bottles are bought each second around the world.
By changing its habits, Cork may hardly be able to make a dent in this shocking figure, but every little helps.
With calls for action to tackle our growing global mountains of plastic waste mounting, Cork Environmental Forum (CEF) have launched a refill campaign to encourage consumers to turn to reusable bottles instead of the single-use ones that end up in our waste streams and ultimately in our oceans.
Connected to the national Refill Ireland campaign, CEF’s scheme encourages local businesses to show their green credentials by offering a no-quibble, free, tap-water refill service to the public. A colourful window sticker with a tap emblem is available, and businesses that sign up are added to Refill Ireland’s ‘Tap Map’, an interactive map that displays the nearest available refill point.
“Through linking in with businesses, we’re hoping people will start using their reusable bottles more when they need a drink of water, to reduce the consumption of plastic,” said CEF spokeswoman Bernadette Connolly.
Several city centre businesses have signed up to the scheme since its launch on World Water Day in March: cafés Myo, The Natural Foods Bakery and The Quay Co-op have been early adopters of a voluntary initiative that Bernadette hopes will grow and spread.
The experiences of Dublin businesses who have been making their mark on the Tap Map since last year should be able to reassure Cork businesses who are undecided.
“Some people might worry that they’ll be inundated with people who are not customers looking for free water, but that isn’t the experience of the businesses that have signed up,” Bernadette says.
“Generally, it will be people who are familiar with and patronise the business. Most cafés supply free water on their tables anyway.”
The positive effects of being seen as a welcoming business and as adding to the sustainability of Cork’s community are an ample reward, Bernadette says: “The response from businesses has been very positive and most are very willing to display the sticker and come on board; I think a lot of businesses are already doing this but this just puts it on a more visible footing and it says to customers that that businesses is supporting a sustainable initiative and has an environmental ethos.”
The demand for bottled water may be linked to perceptions that tap water is of a poor standard, Bernadette believes, but the jury is very much out in that regard; tap water may contain chlorine, fluoride and potential leachates from old piping systems, but bottled water comes with its own set of specific concerns.
Some 90% of bottled waters contain plastic particles and microfibres, according to a recent report by the University of East Anglia, and they contain more that double the quantity of microplastics than tap water.
“Many businesses sell bottled water, and there’s a demand for it,” Bernadette says. “But we need to get people to reduce their consumption of plastic water bottles.
“Changing behaviour is hard, because we’re creatures of habit. But it really is as simple as getting in the habit of bringing a reusable bottle with you.”
Refill Ireland’s campaign begins with changing public habits, but it’s more far-reaching than simply asking local businesses to help people refill; the broader campaign is to help reintroduce public drinking water taps, with the help of local authorities.
Ireland has a long way to go to catch up with some of our European neighbours when it comes to public drinking water. The world breathed a collective “ooh la la” in December when Paris City Hall announced, with typical flair, that it would be installing fountains of sparkling water for public use in each of its 20 arrondissements.
“In Europe, having fountains spread out in villages and in plazas in town centres is very normal,” Bernadette says.
“We’re in the very early stages with the public taps, and obviously we need to address safety concerns. There needs to be some research into whether taps are working or in use, and then hopefully we’ll work with the local authority.”
Bernadette is calling for more businesses to join in and put themselves on the map. Because the ultimate goal is a cleaner environment for all, she says; consumers may feel they’ve played their part when they drop their water bottle into the green bin, but many may not know just how little plastic waste actually ends up being recycled.
“The statistics are staggering; only around 40% of plastic bottles are recycled in Ireland. We want to get plastic out of our lives more, so the message really is: if you drink water during the day, carry a reusable water bottle.
“With businesses coming on board, you won’t need to be embarrassed to ask; anywhere you see the logo, you know you can refill for free.”
To find out more contact Richard Leahy, Cork Environmental Forum at www.cef.ie