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50 Fountains Challenge launched to help fight plastic pollution

City to Sea and Sustain are launching the 50 Fountains Challenge – calling on local areas to provide 50 working public drinking fountains to help prevent plastic pollution and tackle child obesity. The challenge is backed by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Melissa Hemsley and environmental & health groups including the British Dietetic Association and British Dental Association. 


City to Sea, founders of the award-winning Refill campaign, and food and farming charity Sustain have joined forces to call for a new wave of drinking fountains, to meet the needs of a thirsty nation and reduce plastic pollution caused by single use water bottles.

Today we launch the 50 Fountains Challenge calling on local authorities, community groups and fountain companies to work together to install a network of publicly accessible fountains across the UK.

To help kick this off MIW Water Cooler Experts have donated two state-of-the-art water fountains, as well as guidance & toolkit from City to Sea and Sustain launched to support local areas.

As a nation we have taken a seismic leap in prioritising plastic reduction – with more consumers than ever concerned about the issue and taking steps to reduce their personal consumption, sales of bottled water continue to increase with an estimated 7 billion used every year in the UK1.  

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, supports the call, saying,

“Accessible free drinking water for people on the go is a no brainer when it comes to kicking some single use plastic out of our lives. And if it means you choose water to quench your thirst instead of a sugary drink, your body will thank you for it too. The guidelines and tool kit set up by Sustain and City to Sea are helpful and clear. I look forward to a time when buying bottled water is no longer the easier thing to do”.  

Melissa Hemsley, founder of the Sustainability Sessions said:

"I have daily conversations with people asking what is the one change they can make to reduce plastic and I always say to refill but I'm aware it needs to be as easy as possible to access water on the go. I am overjoyed to see the 50 Fountains Challenge as it means more and more fountains will be installed. If we keep asking, sharing where they are on the Refill app and using a refillable bottle then we can make a difference together." 

Drinking fountains had gone out of fashion since their Victorian heyday, but with more people wanting drinks on the go, some local authorities and communities have been working hard to bring them back and there are already 344 fountains listed on the free Refill app. With 400+ Local Authorities across the UK, the potential to increase accessibility to drinking water is huge - if they all committed to having 50 public fountains over the next 10 years then we would have around 20,000 drinking water fountains across the UK.
Ben Reynolds, Deputy Chief Executive of Sustain, commented,

“As a country we should be able to step up and tackle problems as we face them. Convenience has led to the rise of plastic bottles, so we must ensure that the healthy, environmentally friendly options are more accessible, affordable and attractive than the alternatives. This is why we need hundreds, if not hundreds of thousands of drinking fountains over the coming years, up and down the land. They offer a relatively cheap solution compared to the costs to our NHS of diet related disease and the clean-up costs of plastic pollution which burden the taxpayer and wreck the environment.” 

Rebecca Burgess, CEO of City to Sea said today:

“At City to Sea, we want to see greater availability of free drinking water to enable people to stay hydrated, save money and most importantly prevent plastic pollution caused by the millions of single use plastic water bottles used in the UK. There are now over 25,000 Refill Stations listed on the free Refill app and we’re looking forward to the app becoming the go-to for finding drinking water fountains as well.” She continued: “We know from speaking to our partners and the 300+ local Refill Schemes across the country that there is a real thirst to replace or install fountains in communities, town centres, walking routes and schools”. 

Leading water fountain supplier MIW have donated two state-of-the-art-fountains which will be awarded to two schemes who sign up to the challenge the first 3 months. They’ll be judged on the impact a fountain would have in their area on a social and environmental level. 

Mike Winter, MD of MIW Water Cooler Experts, who are backing the challenge said;

"The problem of waste plastic has been globally recognised as one of the most pressing environmental issues. Drinks bottles have been identified as one of the most common pieces of ocean plastic. UK adults use around 150 bottles each and every year. Using refillable drinks bottles will not solve the plastic problem alone, but there’s no denying the impact it could make if we all got on board. But the infrastructure needs to be there to support that move. ‘MIW Water Cooler Experts has been heavily involved in the refill revolution, we’re now proud to be kick-starting the #50FountainsChallenge with the donation of two drinking fountains. If other businesses and organisations follow suit, it could make such a positive difference to the environment."

Where drinking fountains are introduced their potential to reduce single use plastic is massive: 

  • A drinking water fountain at London King’s Cross has been used over 220,000 times since 14th February 2019.  
  • Network Rail have helped prevent more than two million plastic water bottles over the last year by installing free station water fountains across their network.  
  • New fountains from Bristol Water are saving Bristolians half a million pounds a year and the bottles saved would stretch 50 miles. 

But it isn’t just the environment that benefits, as fountains provide an easy alternative to sugary drinks as well. With children consuming three times the amount of recommended sugar, and almost a quarter of sugar consumed by teenagers coming from sugary drinks, a new wave of drinking fountains particularly in child friendly locations could play a useful role in tackling the child obesity crisis.  

Caroline Bovey, Honorary Chair, British Dietetic Association said:

“Choosing water as our main drink helps ensure healthy hydration and with most of us on-the-go, drinking fountains are a great option to top up without getting any sugar or extra calories. The Refill Scheme has already shown good potential for encouraging the free availability of drinking water and these fountains will further support the work being done to promote further roll-out. Creating a healthy environment is a key responsibility in town planning decisions and we hope to see local authorities signing up to this challenge to show that they care about the wellbeing of individuals and communities.” 

British Dental Association Chair Mick Armstrong said:

“Dentists see the damage sugary and acidic soft drinks do every day. Brits consume over 200 litres of them a year, delivering a triple whammy to their teeth, wallets and waistlines.  Expanding our network of water fountains is a no brainer, offering refreshment with no sugars, no plastics and at no cost to the consumer.” 

About the challenge  
The 50 Fountains Challenge is open to Local Authorities, food partnerships, local refill, community groups and others looking to oversee the following in their local area:   


  • Publicly commit to the target of 50 working drinking fountains (with an interim 3-year target)  
  • Map their existing public drinking fountains on the Refill app, and   
  • Install new public drinking fountains to reach the target.   

We are asking groups to register interest, then outline their commitment at which also has more information on how the challenge will work. For anyone looking to install a drinking fountain, City to Sea and Sustain have just published a toolkit with advice on funding, support and case studies of those who have done it. 


For Press Enquiries please contact Emma Heesom - / 07917853647, or Ben Reynolds - / 07939202711 


Notes to editors: 

1.    Sustain is a charity whose alliance represents 100+ national public interest organisations across the UK campaigning for a more sustainable food and farming system. Over the last 20 years they have highlighted the problems of bottled water, run the campaign for a sugary drinks tax, piloting this through the award winning Children’s Health Fund with Jamie Oliver, and launched a network of 50 local Sugar Smart campaigns across the UK.

2.    City to Sea is an environmental not-for-profit campaigning to prevent plastic pollution - from city to sea. They have been campaigning to increase accessibility of free drinking water since 2015 through their award-winning Refill Campaign. The organisation have now created a network of more than 23,000 Refill Stations across the UK where thirsty people can access free drinking water using the location-based Refill app - which recently hit 250,000 downloads. It’s estimated the campaign will have prevented more than 100 million plastic bottles by the end of 2019. 

3.    About City to Sea: 
4.    More information on the 50 Fountains Challenge can be found here: 
5.    Drinking Water Fountains: A How To Guide can be downloaded here   
6.    MIW have donated two fountains which will be awarded to the two schemes judged to make the most impact. Full T&C on request 
7.    More information on the history of drinking fountains can be found here: 

Additional quotes: 
Bristol Water have worked with a consortium in the city, including the City Council and have already installed ten fountains across the city. Today they become one of the first local areas to pledge to the 50 Fountains Challenge. Mel Karam, CEO at Bristol Water, said:

“Often, people turn to bottled water out of convenience. As a local water company, we want to reduce plastic waste here in Bristol by making tap water more publicly available on the go. By working together, we can empower the community to opt for a reusable water bottle instead. We have some of the best drinking water in the world; it’s the healthiest thing you can drink and one thousand times cheaper than bottled alternatives.” 

Amanda Knight of Refill Hunstanton, is backing the call for more fountains;

“It was really wonderful to see a queue of people waiting to refill their water bottle at the fountain we installed on our town promenade. I believe one day soon, refilling your water bottle at a fountain will be the social norm rather than purchasing water in single-use plastic bottles” 

Sparkwell All Saints Primary School in Devon received funding from Sustain’s Children’s Health Fund to purchase one external drinking fountain. Prior to installation they had no other outdoor source of drinking water for their children. With children bringing plastic bottles to school they were keen, as part of their sustainability work, to reduce this and ensure children could be given independent, safe access to water as and when needed. 
A child from the school said; “now if I am running fast I can get a drink to cool me down” Another said: “water is good for you and I am drinking lots of it now”. 


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