COMMENT:

Last week I went for a walk with a friend up One Tree Hill. In Cornwall park we stopped at a water fountain. How nice, I thought. Why aren't there more old-school water fountains around?

Most of us know water is our best choice of drink, and many of us carry our own water bottles. But have you ever been stuck when you're out with nowhere to refill? Filling a bottle in public bathrooms is not such a palatable option for some, even though that water is the same as kitchen tap water. And most of us probably wouldn't feel comfortable rocking up at a cafe and asking for a refill.

But what if you could? If one clever non-profit group has its way, this will soon be a reality for everyone. It's already in place in hundreds of cafes around the country.

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RefillNZ has a goal of "making wai the drink of choice in New Zealand". Driven by a desire to reduce single-use plastic bottles and promote water for health, the group is collaborating with cafes, bars and council facilities to make it easy for people to pop into a cafe or bar to refill their water bottle for free.

Outlets that want to participate display a RefillNZ sticker in their window. Thirsty people are welcome to go in and fill up their bottles at no charge. RefillNZ also aims to map all the public water fountains in the country (turns out there are actually 300 of them in Auckland).

The habit of choosing water first is a great one to pass on to our kids. Photo/File
The habit of choosing water first is a great one to pass on to our kids. Photo/File

This is the kind of simple, smart public health measure that has multiple benefits. Not only does it help reduce waste – right now we use an average of 168 bottles per person, per year, only a third of which are recycled – but it also deals to two major health issues: dental caries from sugary drinks and, potentially, obesity.

The habit of choosing water first is a great one to pass on to our kids. But, as RefillNZ founder Jill Ford pointed out, the infrastructure has to be there to help people do this all the time, even when out and about with the family.

"People quit smoking because there's a quit line and they can get free patches," she says. "We encourage women to exercise when we put childcare into gyms. This is the same."

A survey in the UK showed that 65 per cent of people said they wouldn't buy bottled water if free tap water was readily available. But water fountains are expensive for councils to install.

There's a shortage of old-school water fountains around. Photo / Stephen Parker
There's a shortage of old-school water fountains around. Photo / Stephen Parker

Cafes and other outlets who want to get involved can visit www.refillnz.org.nz. Or wait for a visit from a volunteer - the latest RefillNZ collaboration is with the ADHB, which will shortly be sending people out to sign up outlets all over Auckland.

I can see why a busy cafe owner might hesitate at this. But it seems to me if there are lots of places on board, there'd be little cost to any one outlet, and it's a small step to healthier people and planet.

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Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide; www.healthyfood.com