Green thirst for drinking fountains to slash plastic waste

Environmentalists are calling for councils to bring back outdoor drinking water fountains in Scotland to help cut plastic pollution from bottled drinks.
Bottled water has become associated with healthy lifestyles. Picture: Getty ImagesBottled water has become associated with healthy lifestyles. Picture: Getty Images
Bottled water has become associated with healthy lifestyles. Picture: Getty Images

“It’s both astounding and embarrassing that getting access to something as simple as drinking water in Scotland’s cities is such a massive challenge,” said Fife-based oceans expert Willie Mackenzie, from Greenpeace. “We’re told to keep hydrated, but the only readily available options are plastic pre-packaged bottles for a pretty price. Public drinking fountains and refill stations should be easy to access when out and about.”

The call comes days after London Borough Market announced plans to ban the sale of single-use plastic bottles and provide free drinking water for shoppers and workers.

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More than 38 million plastic bottles are bought in the UK every day, with 16 million ending up in dumps or littering the landscape and seas. This contributes to eight million tonnes of plastic entering the world’s oceans each year which is thought to cause the deaths of a million seabirds and 100,000 marine mammals annually.

Calum Duncan, head of conservation in Scotland for the Marine Conservation Society, said: “It seems a sensible idea for the public to have access to drinking water ‘on the go’, without having to buy bottled water.”

Catherine Gee, director at anti-litter group Keep Scotland Beautiful, added: “Making drinking water more available again is a great idea that may make a significant impact in reducing the huge number of single-use bottles we buy, consume and dispose of.”

Mackenzie believes the lack of facilities is shameful in a country which has high-quality water on tap and ambitious climate change targets. “As a society we already pay, collectively, for well-regulated, safe drinking water supplies,” he said.

John Mayhew is director of the Association for the Protection of Rural Scotland, which runs the Have You Got the Bottle campaign to bring in a deposit return system for plastic bottles. He said that although deposits on cans and bottles help reduce plastic waste, public drinking fountains and refillable bottles are part of the solution too. “We would like to see this idea revived in Scotland, just as it has been elsewhere in Europe,” he said.

Public drinking spouts were once a common sight in parks and town centres across Scotland.

Many have become popular landmarks, but very few are still actually connected to a water supply.

Of all the Scottish local authorities contacted by Scotland on Sunday, none had any functioning outdoor drinking water fountains. Most also said they had no plans to refurbish historical structures nor install modern equivalents.