Survey: Plastic Waste Fuelled by Brits’ Fear of Asking for Free Tap Water

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Concerns have again been raised about the UK’s rising plastic bottle waste problem, after a YouGov survey found more than 70 per cent of the public feel too embarrassed to ask for free tap water in pubs and restaurants if they are not a customer.

According to a poll of more than 2,000 people, 37 per cent said they felt awkward asking for their reusable bottles to be filled up in places such as bars and cafes even if they are purchasing something.

Meanwhile, only a quarter said they were aware of their legal entitlement to ask for free water in such premises.

Yet the survey also found that 59 per cent of people would be more likely to carry a reusable bottle if tap water refills were more freely available in places such as shops, airports, and parks.

At present, just seven per cent said they usually drank from public water fountains or taps, while only 11 per cent said they asked for tap water from cafes and restaurants. Just under two thirds also said they rarely or never carried a refillable bottle, yet almost three quarters of respondents – 73 per cent – said they would like tap water to be more freely available.

Licensed premises including bars, theatres and restaurants are legally required to provide free drinking water on request in England, Scotland, and Wales, although they can charge for the use of any glass. However, there is no legal obligation for free drinking water to be provided at unlicensed premises such as health clubs, tourist attractions, and cinemas.

Commissioned by waste charity Keep Britain Tidy and filtered water brand Brita UK, the survey comes amid increasing alarm over levels of plastic waste in the UK, particularly with regards to single-use plastic water bottles. Around 7.7 billion plastic water bottles are estimated to be bought in the UK each year and only a limited number of them are recycled.

The issue is also currently the subject of a Parliamentary select committee inquiry.

In order to cut down on single-use plastic bottle waste, Keep Britain Tidy chief executive Allison Odgen-Newton urged for more action to ensure drinking water is freely available for people to fill up reusable bottles in public buildings and businesses while on the go.

“Topping-up in a glass or refillable bottle would encourage us to stay healthy while helping to reduce littering in our streets, parks and beaches, which is all good,” she said.

Other recommendations from the charity include updating and boosting public awareness of legislation on legal rights for access to drinking water, as well as encouraging the hospitality and transport sectors to provide free drinking water to customers and non-customers.

Sarah Taylor, MD of BRITA UK, said single-use plastic bottles were too often thrown away, resulting in litter on the streets and public spaces, as well as damaging the marine environment. “It’s great to see that many cafes, shops and other businesses already proactively offer free drinking water and encourage customers or non-customers to fill up, but we need more businesses to follow in their footsteps, greater availability of public drinking fountains, and to boost people’s understanding of their water rights.”