Refilling in the face of the climate and plastic crisis

During last week’s heatwave many people turned to the Refill app to find free drinking water on the go as people struggled to cope with the extreme heat. Having mapped accessible free drinking water is one of many mitigations we will need as we transition to a world of more extreme weather events. Crucially however, Refill is also part of the adaptation that’s needed to shift consumers away from the carbon heavy single-use plastics industry.

Plastics and climate change

Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) from the plastics industry are huge. It is predicted that they will soon be bigger than aviation and shipping combined!. The industry currently pumps out a massive 850 million metric tonnes of GHGs – the equivalent of 189 coal-fired power plants in a year. GHGs are emitted at every stage of the plastics lifecycle, from its extraction and transport, refining and manufacture, through to waste management. By 2050, the GHGs from plastic could reach over 56 gigatons. Or, put another way, 10-13 percent of the entire remaining carbon budget.

Make no mistake, Big Oil is driving the plastics industry.

We’re heating it up

Last week was terrifying. We saw record temperatures. Normally temperature records are broken by fractions of a degree, but last week the 40.2C recorded at Heathrow was a massive 1.5C higher than the previous record of 38.7C recorded in 2019. Heatwaves are more likely, more severe and will last longer due to human-caused climate change. Dr Friederike Otto at Imperial College London told The Guardian that the 40C we’ve just experienced “would have been extremely unlikely or virtually impossible without human-caused climate change” and that “40C is now a reality of British summers.”

Stay grounded

The answer to both the plastic crisis and the climate crisis is alarmingly simple though, we need to keep more fossil fuels in the ground. In the plastics industry that means a massive reduction in the amount of single-use plastics produced and a wholesale shift to reuse and refill models. By stopping the expansion of petrochemical and plastic production and we can keep a much bigger % of fossil fuels in the ground.

Don’t bottle it

Refilling your water bottle is, and only ever can be, part of the solution. But it is part of the solution! And it is perhaps one of the easiest things we can all do – carry a reusable water bottle and shun the expensive and polluting single-use alternatives. This is what Refill aims to make easy for you – to find where you can refill when you are on the go. So please – do keep on refilling.

Keeping cool heads

This latest heatwave was bad, but worse is to come. Records will be broken again and more people will lose their lives. This is a stark reality of global warming that is being bought home to many in the last few weeks. Refill then is part about trying to tackle the climate crisis and limiting how bad this will get. But it is also about supporting communities through these events. The campaign is based on local grassroots community groups, independent businesses and politicians. Together we’ve made a web of accessible drinking water points that already support communities. As our world continues to warm this will become more and more important.

Global solutions

The Refill campaign was founded in Bristol and quickly spread all across the UK. But in the last few years it has gone truly global and has completely transformed the conversation about the accessibility of free drinking water in public around the world. We now have hundreds of thousands of places to refill mapped in 135 countries on the app that is itself translated into  9 different languages. Refill has International Delivery Partners around the world who are themselves supporting their own communities. We are acutely aware that the climate crisis will hit the most vulnerable the hardest around the world and that we have an obligation to do our bit to support them with our resources however we can.