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Bury St Edmunds recycling guru Karen Cannard reports on World Refill Day




Wednesday, June 16, happened to be World Refill Day, a global awareness campaign, led by the environmental charities City to Sea and Friends of the Earth, aimed at preventing plastic pollution and helping people live with less waste.

City to Sea recognises that growing awareness about the environmental impacts of plastics has fuelled the rising popularity of reusable and refillable drinks containers, like coffee cups and water bottles.

However, after a year of lockdowns and altered habits, progress on plastic pollution appears to have stalled – with the new polling revealing that 73 per cent per cent of people think it is just as bad, or worse than it was before the pandemic began.

World Refill Day promotes products that can be bought in refillable containers. Picture: iStock/Newman Studio
World Refill Day promotes products that can be bought in refillable containers. Picture: iStock/Newman Studio

Consequently, City to Sea, in partnership with Friends of the Earth, is now calling on the UK government to place refill and reuse at the heart of recovery from the pandemic, as part of legally binding targets on plastic pollution.

The charities have also called for supermarkets (and the brands they stock) to up their game on plastic reduction, highlighting research findings that 74 per cent of British people surveyed said they have experienced feelings of anxiety, frustration or hopelessness at the amount of plastic that comes with their shopping. Almost two thirds (59 per cent) of those surveyed said they do not think supermarkets and brands are doing enough to offer refillable, reusable or packaging free products.

They are asking that retailers make it easier for customers to make plastic free choices, by promoting refillable products within their stores and creating packaging free aisles. Similar commitments are being proposed in France where 20 per cent of shelf space would be dedicated to ‘Refill Stations’ by 2030.

Recycling campaigner Karen Cannard Moreton Hall.Karen Cannard (the BFP's anti-waste columnist) and her long campaign against waste including the rubbish diet etc. Picture Mark Westley. (48543648)
Recycling campaigner Karen Cannard Moreton Hall.Karen Cannard (the BFP's anti-waste columnist) and her long campaign against waste including the rubbish diet etc. Picture Mark Westley. (48543648)

Reports also show that over the last 12 months, one in three people have had a reusable container refused when buying a product that can be refilled. Advice from City to Sea states that despite initial hesitancy about accepting reusables, like coffee cups, at the height of the pandemic, leading experts now say they are safe to use in hospitality settings providing basic hygiene guidance is followed. The charity has produced comprehensive guidance for businesses on how to accept reusable cups, bottles, and take-away containers in a covid safe way. Together with Friends of the Earth, they are calling on businesses to reinstate policies where customers can return to bringing reusables in favour of single-use containers.

As we slowly adjust back into our routines, the World Refill Day campaign is a useful reminder that there is still so much to do and that we should not take our foot off the pedal. However, we should also celebrate every inch of progress along the way.

For instance, since lockdown, The Body Shop has introduced a refill system for some of its popular products at my local store. The company started trialling this in 2019 so it is great to witness it being rolled out locally in Suffolk.

In other news, Asda, in partnership with some of its major brands, is rolling out four more trial stores for a refillable service covering household detergents and dry goods.

It will be a while before we see such large-scale retail refills schemes everywhere. However, if you are keen to reduce your plastic, I urge you to use our local independents who already offer refill services.

If you’re unsure where to find such services, help is at hand with City to Sea’s Refill app. Wherever you are in the country it highlights the organisations that offer facilities such as water refills, those that accept reusable cups and stores that offer plastic free shopping. See https://www.refill.org.uk/.

Also don’t forget Suffolk’s very own refill directory, which you can find at https://suffolkrecycling.org.uk/reduce-your-waste/refill-directory

If you’re a retailer that offers similar services but aren’t registered yet, please do get in touch with the relevant websites above to ensure that you are listed.

World Refill Day may be just one day, but its impact is for life.

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