With funding for app secured, Refill my bottle now ready for international expansion

With funding for app secured, Refill my bottle now ready for international expansion

Like most of the best ideas, the Refill my Bottle initiative is incredibly simple. So simple that you’ve probably guessed most of what it is about from the title. Started in Bali, now spreading rapidly across South East Asia, and just beginning to make inroads into Europe, this is a scheme that is tailor made for the tourism industry.

Over 5 million travellers visit Bali every year, staying there for an average of 4 days. Tourists consume, on average, 2 litres of water each day. With each tourist using around 4 half-litre bottles a day, over 6 million disposable plastic bottles are used and discarded every month in Bali alone. And the numbers are only increasing. The lack of waste management systems means that these water bottles end up in landfills, the ocean, or are burned which creates toxic fumes.

Initiated by Alex Tsuk, founder of sustainable booking engine BookGreener, a group of sustainable businesses on Bali have come up with the simple idea of providing access to drinking water to all who need it – without having to buy a plastic water bottle. They created RefillBali, a simple app with an online map of Bali that identifies all the places – be it a cafe, resort, museum or shop – where people could walk in and fill up their bottle with clean water for free (or a minimum fee to cover their costs and considerably less than buying a new bottle of water.)

Refills are now available in Bali at over 360 RefillStations. Local RefillAmbassadors, who know their environments better than anyone, work to establish RefillStations in their own communities and so the locations across the map are constantly increasing.

The idea has already spread beyond just Bali. Neighbouring islands facing the same issue have joined Bali in the fight against plastic waste, including Lombok, Java and Sulawesi. There is now a Refill Cambodia, which has also started operating in Laos. Individual operators in Thailand, and Vietnam have signed up through the map as well. And this month, thanks to support from the responsible tour operator Better Places and other Dutch travel companies, RefillmyBottle reached its crowdfunding target to develop an app.

With the right support, this simple and effective idea should grow rapidly worldwide from here. Wherever you are in the world, tourism is a major cause of this problem, and as the plastic waste ruins the beautiful landscapes and oceans people come to visit, it is also a major victim too.

Our industry is also in the perfect position to provide a solution. We want people visiting our restaurants, bars, surf shops, museums and galleries. And all it takes to get them in is a free refill of water. Many will leave straight away with nothing but fresh water, but some may stay and discover more about what the business is doing, and maybe spend time and money supporting it. Whatever happens, all will leave with the business now associated in their mind with being socially committed and environmentally aware.

Signing up for the programme can also be good for a business’ relationship with its local community. It shows they are committed to reducing waste. And the initial action of offering water creates a connection with other likeminded businesses. Already in Bali the network of refill stations has stimulated the creation of groups who meet and network to see how together they can address other issues around sustainability in their community.

Refill my Bottle relies for its success on proliferating the number of places where we can get drinkable water. The hardest part was getting it off the ground. This has happened, and now it is spreading internationally. There is also a similar scheme in the UK, spreading rapidly across the country – the two should connect. If you want to bring it to the community where you work, or have ideas for how it can grow further and faster, check out their website; on Facebook​ search for RefillMyBottle; on Instagram​ for @RefillMyBottle_; and on LinkedIn​ for RefillMyBottle. Or simply get in touch with the team at iloveto@refillmybottle.com.

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Jeremy Smith is a writer, speaker and sustainable tourism consultant. He is co-founder of Tourism Declares a Climate Emergency, an initiative that supports tourism organisations in declaring a climate emergency and working together to reduce their carbon emissions in line with the Science Based Targets. He is the author of Transforming Travel - realising the potential of sustainable tourism (2018), and co-founder of Travindy.com, the travel industry sustainable tourism website news site. He consults widely on sustainable tourism strategy and communication, with recent clients including Bruges Ommeland, GSTC, English National Parks, Tripadvisor, the Travel Foundation, and the European Travel Commission. He is a member of Travalyst’s Independent Advisory Board and was a member of Rotterdam’s International Advisory Board in 2019, helping develop a new vision for the city’s tourism.

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