People will be able to refill water bottles for free in tens of thousands of places in England in future following the announcement of a new national scheme by the water industry today.
It's estimated that the new scheme will cut plastic bottle use by tens of millions each year, as well an increasing the availability of high-quality drinking water. Northumbrian Water has already started its own work to reduce plastic waste by encouraging businesses in Durham to open their doors to the public in order to refill their water bottles.
Going forward, water companies will join forces with the Refill campaign to offer a network of refill stations to help the public top up their water bottles for free.
High street retailers, coffee shops, businesses and local authorities will all join forces to offer the service in every major city and town in England by 2021.
There will also be an app to find out where your nearest refill point is - and some water companies will look at installing new public drinking fountains and restoring some historical ones which have fallen into disuse.
Northumbrian Water's Chief Executive, Heidi Mottram, said: "Business has a responsibility to play a critical role in helping people to tackle this problem at the grass roots, reducing the use of plastics at source wherever possible.
"As an ethical company, Northumbrian Water is committed to leading the charge on this initiative and we're trying to make it as easy as possible for people to stay hydrated on the move, without adding to the disposable plastics problem.
"We're encouraging everyone to get behind the Refill campaign, which encourages people to drink our clean, clear and great tasting tap water, and also helps to reduce the amount of plastic waste."
The current Refill scheme, now happening in 13 towns and cities in England, encourages participating cafes, bars, restaurants, banks, galleries, museums and other businesses to sign up to a free app and put a sticker in their window alerting passers-by to the fact they're welcome to fill up their bottle for free.
Step one in delivering the nationwide scheme is for water companies to work with Refill to develop local action plans by September 2018, setting out steps they will take - working with local partners - to drive up access to drinking water locally.
This will include the number of refill stations to be available. Plans will cover specific initiatives tailored to local circumstances, which may also include projects like new outdoor drinking fountains and re-usable bottles.