Walk on the foreshore of the Thames at low tide and you will be greeted by a singular and ugly sight – scores of discarded single-use water bottles.
They are likely to remain there until they are washed downstream, to become part of the poisonous plastic particle stew that we call our oceans or they are picked up by doughty volunteers from Thames21 .
I can’t help but feel that the London Assembly environment committee has missed a trick in its report into the plastic water bottle menace . It has put its weight behind a deposit return system (DRS) to end the scourge, overly fearful that anything more draconian may drive Londoners into the arms of the sugary drinks industry.
The trouble with a DRS is the wider environmental and behavioural implications. It still causes huge amounts of damage to bring water from source to London, filling the air with pollution and the roads with lorries.
And it still encourages people to buy single-use water bottles. A percentage will return them but many will not, the few pennies in redemption fees often not worth the effort.
The best ideas presented to the committee could be combined into one end-to-end system that cuts down on the level of plastic overall and sends the right signals – that water is good but plastic bad.
- A refillable bottle. ZSL’s #oneless campaign is looking to design one that makes them desirable as physical objects and environmental emblems.
- Free tap water provided by shopkeepers and cafes who will offer the service because it brings cachet, goodwill and footfall.
- Apps highlighting free tap water outlets near you – as well as other water sources like fountains and hydration stations.
- A “nudge” campaign to make single-use water bottles socially unacceptable.
Sadly, DRS is like encouraging people to stop smoking by providing more ashtrays.
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