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

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.


Is bottled water bad? Read more here.

Freelance writer Mary Catherine O'Connor finds that a growing number of companies are proving the ways that they can make good financially, socially and environmentally (as the triple bottom line theory suggests).With that in mind, she contributes to Triple Pundit, as well as to Earth2Tech and other pubs focused on sustainability. She also writes The Good Route, an Outside Magazine blog that addresses the intersection of sustainability and the active/outdoor life.To find out more, or to reach her, go to