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London Battling Single-Use Water Bottles with New-Fangled Bubblers

Mary Catherine O'Connor | Monday October 12th, 2009 | 8 Comments

More articles on the controversy surrounding bottled water can be found here!

cat-sink-drinking-fountainIn some public spaces, it’s as hard to find a water fountain (or “bubbler” or “drinking fountain,” depending on your local lexicon) as it is to track down a pay-phone. But just as cell phones have made pay phones obsolete, the ubiquitous water bottle means water fountains don’t get much use anymore.

But there are signs that water fountains might be making a comeback—albeit in a slightly different form factor than that to which most of us are accustomed. After banning the sale of bottled water, the Australian tourist town of Bundanoon recently installed three water-bottle refilling stations, which crank out filtered water provided by Culligan.  And now London is getting its feet wet with a test of similar dispensers at a London bus station and museum, reports The Guardian.

The trial is being deployed by Thames Water, Britain’s biggest water utility, with the cooperation of the Greater London Authority (the city’s governmental arm) and Transport for London, its transit agency. The refilling stations—called HydraChills—are being installed this month at the Hammersmith bus station and at the Tower Bridge museum. The machines can fill bottles of up to 500 milliliters (about 17 ounces) with chilled water—but not for free. There is a 20 pence charge to use the machines, and this will be donated to Waste Watch, a UK environmental nonprofit.

The idea is to test out the dispensers on the public. If they are well-used, the city will make them permanent fixtures in the pilot locations as well as in transit stations across London before the 2012 Olympics arrive.

The test is part of a larger effort by London’s government to decrease the number of single-use water bottles in its waste stream. Plus, London’s water authority hopes this will help it battle a negative image that sellers of bottled water have been drumming up through an ad campaign that calls London tap water unfit for anything more than showering. Tests, however, show otherwise. According to The Guardian, “The Drinking Water Inspectorate’s latest water quality report said Thames Water’s tap water was 99.99% compliant with national and European standards – its best-ever performance.”

Just outside London, in Hyde Park, a new source of public water was installed late last month. But rather than a water vending machine like the HydraChill, the Hyde Park installation is an actual water fountain, so one does not need to have an reusable bottle to enjoy it (although they can easily refill their bottles there, too). Plus, the fountain is actually an art sculpture, too.

I like where Hyde Park is going with this idea. While I applaud any city’s efforts to discourage use the single-use water bottles—based on the huge amount of energy and oil required for their production and shipment—I think keeping water free and offering it up to any passerby, with or without a bottle, is the way to go.

What about where you live? Are water fountains making a come-back? Or are you seeing these water dispensers springing up? Let us know in the comments section.

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Is bottled water bad? Read more here.

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  • Nick Aster

    Bubblers, yes! (I can sense the Wisconsin connection here). It kind of boggles my mind that water fountains are less common than they used to be. You can still find them in many public buildings, and even shopping malls, etc. I think with a little marketing you might even get them popularized again. Just get a few celebrities to carry around a fancy bottle and fill it up from time to time and sexy, well designed little fountains.

    Here’s another idea – given the paranoia people have towards tap water, a company like Brita could probably hit a marketing home run by placing branded fountains at key spots around a city – and giving away free, kleen kanteen style bottles to go along with it. Anyone listening?

  • Kirsten@Nexyoo

    I think this is a good idea, but I agree that it would be better to offer the water for free. I haven’t noticed any new ‘bubblers’ in the U.S. yet.

  • http://meganle.wordpress.com Megan Le

    I think this is great! I signed a contract for “think outside the bottle” and this is just perfect! I used to live in Barcelona where you did not want to drink the tap water, and the expense and weight of buying and dragging around water to the apartment was anything but ideal. I am now back in the USA and am amazed at people’s reactions when I refuse a bottle and say “no thanks, I will just have tap water.” But hopefully our attitudes will change soon- most people just need a little bit more education on the subject and of course, incentives.

  • http://www.londonontap.org Amy Dutton

    The water would be free but we have to add a nominal charge to ensure the machine isn’t vandalised and people don’t waste the water!! All money will be donated to charity however. Amy

  • Denise

    I know where all the drinking fountains are on the path I walk each week so I don’t need to carry a water bottle with me. One even has a faucet at the bottom…for dogs, I assume.

  • Pablo

    Hi everyone! I’m from Argentina. Here, tap water is not an option. Even though we have a large fresh water stock, the authorities implement the funny “policiy” of tapping the water from the same source we send our sewage -not always with the proper treatment-. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Tap water stinks with chlorum, and even my plumber told me: “dude, are you sure you wanna drink that glass of water?”.
    As regards bubblers, sadly I don’t figure out how could such a public policy be implemented in my country. You know, the companies who supply bottled water might exercice their lobbing muscles… and what can be said about the truck driver’s trade union! Sadly that’s how sustaintability is managed down here in southern South America. I envy the natural resource management policies you have over there. Excuse my english. Best regards. Pablo.-

    • Ondrej

      Hi all :)
      I really like this text. Sorry for my english, I am only 17 and I am from Slovakia, it’s not my language… We are doing a project at school about drinking water fountains. We have to write why are they good, what are their advantages and disadvantages. We have to have a look at safety, reliability and so.. You all guys look like you are pretty interested. Can anyone hgelp me? I’ve searched the internet but I couldn’t find anything. And my opinion is, that more waterfountains should be placed on public places not only because of providing free water, but to help save environment. Thanks and again sorry for my English :(

      • Tatiana

        Hi Ondrej,
        Are you still interested in drinking fountains? I think I could help you out with information on them.
        Tatiana

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