Powering a global #RefillRevolution from Bristol

Ordering contactless refill
Eve Warlow

Our latest blog post is by Eve Warlow, Marketing Manager at City to Sea, an environmental campaigning organisation based in Bristol. Eve writes about the charity’s mission to make living with less plastic easier and their work during the pandemic in Bristol and beyond.

As COVID-19 hit the UK back in March, many cafés, pubs and restaurants, in part influenced by scaremongering from the plastics industry, stopped accepting reusables and instead increased their use of single-use plastic items, which consequently created a tidal wave of pollution on our streets, parks and beaches. 

A statement released by Greenpeace and signed by over 120 health scientists confirmed what we knew – that reusables are perfectly safe to use – and that while public safety must remain our priority, it doesn’t have to come at a cost to our planet.

Getting reusables back on the menu

At City to Sea we’ve been working hard to get reusables back on the menu and ensure businesses have the support they need to put the scientific advice into action by providing guidance and practical solutions.

In May we partnered with Bristol chain, Better Food to launch Contactless Coffee, a campaign to provide simple steps to enable businesses to safely accept reusable cups again. Since its launch in Bristol, the campaign has gone global, reached over three million people and been picked up and adopted by countless businesses around the world, with Bristol once again leading the way.  

The drive for sustainable change continues to be pioneered by amazing independent businesses. But the bigger chains need to follow their lead. Over the summer we launched a 38 Degrees petition calling on businesses across the UK to follow the lead of Bristol-based businesses including Better Foods and Boston Tea Party and start accepting reusable coffee cups, containers and water bottles again. This resulted in Costa and Starbucks reversing their ban on accepting reusable cups and bottles. Cheers to that!

This month, we launched our new report delving further into the problem of single-use packaging in the food-to-go sector. It’s the first report of its kind in the UK and crucially, it provides a succinct road map charting the steps that business and government need to take to significantly reduce the amount of single-use packaging used by the sector. 

We believe that there IS a way out of this environmental crisis that is good for reducing plastics, protecting our oceans and boosting profits – and that coffee shops, cafes and fast-food outlets CAN be part of the solution! 

Powering a global Refill Revolution

In October this year we expanded our award-winning Refill campaign. Refill started life in Bristol back in 2015 as a drinking water campaign designed to tackle the monumental issue of single-use plastic water bottles by connecting people with free drinking water on-the-go. Working with pioneering local businesses in Bristol, we launched the pilot scheme providing window stickers for local shops, cafes, pubs and restaurants that were signed up on the location-based Refill app. Thanks to the incredible local businesses of Bristol, the pilot was a roaring success, paving the way for the global Refill Revolution to come!

Fast forward five years and we now have over 400 schemes across the world, with over 300,000 app downloads and more than 30,000 Refill Stations signed up offering free drinking water everywhere from Latin America to Australia.

But we knew the issue was much bigger than bottled water. Coffee cups and take-away containers are consistently in the top 10 items found on beaches around the world and food wrappers are now the most found item on beaches around the world overtaking cigarettes for the first time. An estimated 1,290 tonnes of plastic could be prevented from entering the environment each year through the use of reusable food containers when purchasing takeaway food.

So we expanded our Refill campaign to tackle just that. The free Refill app now connects conscious consumers to places they can refill not only their reusable water bottle, but also their coffee cup, lunchbox, groceries and even cleaning products and toiletries, making it the world’s first dedicated app to helping people refill and reuse.

Join the Refill community!

Our research has shown that 93% of the British public are still worried about plastic pollution, more than half say they are actively trying to buy groceries that are not sold in plastic packaging.

Thousands of independent businesses, including Bristol favourites The Canteen, Boston Tea Party, Café Kino and over 400 zero-waste shops including Better Food, La Ruca, Matter Wholefoods and Harvest are now signed up, alongside several leading UK retailers and brands including Costa, Morrisons and LUSH.

We’re now looking for other forward-thinking Bristol businesses in the food-to-go or retail sector to get involved. Whether you already allow customers to bring their own containers or offer packaging-free options, or if you’re interested in trialling a refill service for the first time, you can sign up your business to be listed on the app for free – and benefit from increased visibility and footfall as a result.

Here’s how to get involved today…

  1. Download and read our food-to-go report.
  2. Download (if you haven’t already) or update the free Refill app.
  3. If you’re a business offering refills, you can register and update your listing on the app for free. Here’s how.
  4. Become a Refill Employer.

For more information visit Refill.org.uk.

Visit the Bristol Bites Back Better website to find out how you and your organisation can play a role in building a stronger food system for Bristol. Share your insights and stories using the hashtag #BiteBackBetter.

The need for a resilient food community has never been greater. The coronavirus pandemic has already led to unforeseen challenges for our city’s food system, and unimagined resourcefulness from communities and organisations across Bristol. Read more about why ‘going green’ is good for your business.


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