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Wales Aims to Become First ‘Refill Nation,’ Teach Residents ‘Value of Tap Water’

The Pierhead Building, Wales Millennium Center and Welsh Parliament building on the waterfront in Cardiff, Wales. | Image credit: Julian Nitzsche/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0)

The Welsh Government and City to Sea, a group campaigning against single-use plastics, are collaborating on the development of campaigns to encourage refills and change residents’ behavior to make tap water their first choice for hydration.

While the campaigns will help people ‘see the value of water,’ the government has also announced an additional £15 million of capital funding to further improve Local Authority recycling collection systems and infrastructure, including for plastics.

The Welsh Environment Minister Hannah Blythyn made the announcement, highlighting Wales waste reduction achievements to date, including a recycling rate “well over” 60 percent. By comparison, Scotland and England each have recycling rates below 50 percent.

“Wales is a world leader in recycling. We are the best in the UK, second in Europe and third in the world. I am keen to build on this success,” Blythyn said. “I’m pleased to announce a range of measures to further boost recycling and reduce waste, including £15m for Local Authorities to improve their recycling rates across Wales. I also want Wales to become the World’s first ‘Refill Nation’, making tap water easily accessible across the whole of Wales.”

City to Sea will work with the Welsh government aims to develop the Refill campaign for Wales.

Started in Bristol, the Refill campaign has been steadily spreading over England. The tap water campaign aims to make refilling water bottles as easy and convenient as possible by working with local businesses. Participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses simply put a sticker in their window – alerting passers-by to the fact they’re welcome to come on in and fill up their bottle – for free.

In January, the campaign teamed up with industry body Water UK to create a network of high street retailers, coffee shops, businesses and local authorities offering to refill water bottles in every English town and city by 2021. Whitbread was the first company to sign up, pledging that all of its 3,000 Costa Coffee and Premier Inn locations would participate beginning in March.

The rise of the Refill campaign aligns with the wider UK ‘War on Plastic’ which also led to the approval of a deposit return scheme (DRS) by the English Government (Defra). Blythyn told BBC Wales she would like to see a DRS in Wales “as soon as practically possible,” but noted that the Welsh Government may need to run public consultations in parallel with Defra’s plans to ask the public’s views in England.

“I am currently considering Wales’ involvement in a UK-wide deposit return scheme. Developing approaches on a UK-wide basis can be less complicated for consumers and better for businesses who have told us they prefer this approach, particularly as we prepare for Brexit,” Blythyn said in the announcement. To the BBC, she added that consideration was needed about how a DRS “would work best for us in Wales.”

Blythyn stressed that any scheme will must take account of risks and benefits to existing provision and recycling levels and build on the work already done in Wales. For example, it has already achieved an estimated 65 percent collection rate for drinking bottles through curbside recycling programs.

The Welsh Government is also considering amendments to its Producer Responsibility Obligations Packaging Waste Regulations so that producers and retailers pay a larger share of waste management costs. Research on reducing and recycling waste and reducing litter from six types of food and drink packaging through Extended Producer Responsibility was recently conducted to help inform related policy changes. 

The government is further considering a tax, levy or charge on single-use beverage cups for Wales and a pilot to test mandatory use of reusable cups. They will continue to work with HM Treasury on a UK single-use plastics tax.

Finally, the Welsh Government will also work with WRAP. It has signed up to the organization’s new UK Plastics Pact, a commitment by businesses to reduce plastic waste, and is funding the creation of a “Plastics Recycling Route Map” for Wales by WRAP Cymru that will recommend action to increase the use of recycled materials in plastic manufactured in Wales.


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