3rd May 2016

Tapwater: the unsung saviour of the oceans


Well done to all the finalists who took part in the Water Challenge Geovation Camp held at Ordnance Survey over the weekend 4-6 March. The finalists had been selected as the best ideas entered to our Geovation Challenge to tackle problems associated with improving water use in Britain sustainably.

Natalie Fee is the founder of City to Sea, a Bristol-based community interest company set up to design and deliver campaigns that stop marine plastic pollution at source. Their aim is to change the way everyday folk like us use and dispose of single-use plastics and provide replicable models for other towns and cities.

Her Story

Plastic bottles on a river side

Plastic in the ocean breaks down into such small segments that pieces of plastic from a one litre bottle could end up on every mile of beach throughout the world.

Imagine if you will, a group of four stunned, speechless and very excited environmental campaigners having just heard they’d won a place on the Geovation programme. Jaws on the floor, cameras in their faces and possibly even a bit of squealing going on. Well that was us just over a month ago, the ‘Refillable Cities’ team.

Cut to six months earlier and you’d have found us running our first major campaign in Bristol; a free tap-water initiative funded by Bristol 2015 (the company set up to deliver Bristol’s year as European Green Capital) designed to reduce marine plastic pollution at source by making refilling your water bottle an easy and attractive behaviour. After four months we had over 200 Refill stations across Bristol’s city centre; cafes, retailers, hotels – even Specsavers – were displaying a round, blue sticker in the window offering free refills t passers-by.

But even though we had volunteers to sign up Refill stations, a seemingly infinite number of venues offering to be Refill stations and sponsorship from Bristol Water for 2016, we had a couple of question marks hanging over our campaign. How do we know the Refill stations are being used to show the campaign works? And how do we get people to change their behaviour and remember to take their refillable bottles out with them when they leave the house? And there was one other thing. Every week we were being approached by other towns, cities and counties who wanted their own Refill scheme.

So we pitched the solution to the Geovation panel. Thanks to a whole tank of innovation expertise and business guidance over the weekend we landed on the idea of the Refill app. An app that not only shows you where you can refill for free, but rewards you for it too. We worked out that if people got rewards for refills, we’d solve the data and behaviour change problems whilst still reducing peoples’ dependency on single-use plastic water bottles.

And we won! As an idea that was ‘thinking locally, acting globally and could scale sustainably’. We also won the community award, as voted on by everyone in the room on the Geovation Camp. Since Camp the reality of the programme has dawned on us – it’s so much more than we expected … in a good way! The partners associated with Geovation, the Geovation team themselves – having a whole team of ‘the best’ in their fields (developers, business experts, project managers) dedicated to our success is both humbling and sky-rocketingly exciting. It’s a money-can’t buy opportunity and we’re going to do all we can as a team to make sure we meet the standards of the programme and beyond.

Whilst we have the values, the inspiration and infinite passion to deliver a campaign like this, we lacked the technical and business expertise to create it. That was until now. Geovation is giving us the chance to turn Refill Bristol into Refill Britain and we’re pretty sure the seas and all who sail in them would thank the judges and everyone at Camp for believing in us.

Watch out for more blog posts from our Geovation Water Challenge winners in the future. Don’t miss out! See the reactions from all three Challenge winners on YouTube.


Twitter: @citytoseabrist / @refillbristol