Whether you’re commuting, shopping or sightseeing, touring any city can be a thirsty business. 

London is often associated with fog and rain, but anyone who has taken the tube or pounded the pavements in the summer knows it can also be sweltering. Plus, it’s massive. Even if you take a bottle of water with you in the morning, that half a litre may not get you very far. So, what do you do? The go-to solution for the past 20 years or so has been to buy a disposable plastic bottle of water, a decision taken over a billion times a year by residents and visitors to London. That means over a billion disposable plastic water bottles across the city are used every year, the equivalent of 175 per person. 

Our solution at the #OneLess campaign is to start a hydration revolution. We’re calling on the people of this most iconic of cities to say no to the most recognisable symbol of ocean plastic pollution – the single-use plastic water bottle.

One Less are a friend of Ocean Unite and are tackling ocean plastic pollution at source – working to transform London into a place where single-use bottled water is a thing of the past. 

Ocean Unite, #OneLess

By now everyone has heard about the explosion of plastic pollution and its impact on the ocean. Videos of suffering sea turtles and whales, images of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and harbours clogged up with plastic rubbish have shaken the public consciousness. The revelation that eight million tonnes of plastic is making its way into the ocean every year has horrified people across the world. This amount is the equivalent of the weight of 10 London Eyes every day! But global statistics and pictures of far flung places can feel far removed from our everyday lives and that’s why #OneLess is bringing the battle against plastic down to the street level.
 
We’re taking a localised, systemic approach to reducing plastic pollution, starting in London. The campaign is hosted by the Zoological Society of London, in partnership with Forum for the Future, The International Programme on the State of the Ocean, and the Thames Estuary Partnership and involves a host of pioneering partners including local councils, museums, venues, shops, cafes, and the Mayor of London.
 
#OneLess is raising awareness of London as a coastal city, directly linked to the ocean via another icon in this story, the River Thames. The famously meandering river is the heart of the city, and – sadly – the destination of many of its discarded plastic bottles. 

Our recent 2019 report, The River Thames: Plastic bottle pollution, highlighted the work we carry out with partners to monitor the number of plastic bottles in the River Thames. Between April 2016 and April 2019, we collected and removed nearly 70,000 single-use plastic bottles from the banks of the River Thames. Nearly 50 per cent of the bottles categorised during our surveys were water bottles. On one single day in 2018, we retrieved 2,500 plastic bottles from the banks of the river. 

Ocean Unite, #OneLess

While we believe these represent just a fraction of the total quantity that end up in the Thames, the results of this study offer fascinating, and disturbing, insights into the impact our plastic addiction is having on our surroundings. But information is not enough. People need to drink water when they are out and about in the city. If we’re going to change things and become a more sustainable city, we need to provide facilities for refilling. To do that, we are resurrecting a much-missed relic of the past – the public drinking fountain. 

Last year, #OneLess teamed up with the Mayor of London to install an initial network of 28 fountains in key locations across the city, including the Natural History Museum, Carnaby and Liverpool Street Train Station, and we’re delighted that the Mayor has committed to at least 100 more fountains – many of which are popping up across London already. Café chains, shops and hospitals are also coming on board, pledging to give free water refills to anyone who asks. There are now more than 2,500 refill stations across London where people can refill their bottles for free and you can even download a Refill App to locate your nearest refill point.

The drinking fountains are already a big hit and we hope one day they’ll be as common a sight on London’s streets as the famous red post boxes. To date, these #OneLess fountains have dispensed 154,000 litres of water. That’s the equivalent of 308,000 500ml single-use plastic water bottles. More than half the fountain users surveyed said they use fewer plastic bottles thanks to the availability of more fountains, and 84 per cent told our researchers that they avoid single-use plastic bottles to protect the ocean.

Ocean Unite, #OneLess

This year we took on the summer with a special campaign aimed at getting tourists and other visitors to say “Hello London, Goodbye Ocean Plastic”. Over 30 million tourists flock to London each year, and the findings from The River Thames: Plastic bottle pollution report revealed an unsurprising peak in the number of bottles counted along the river over the summer months. 
 
#OneLess is joining forces with some of London’s most popular attractions, landmarks and special events to showcase alternatives to bottled water – getting visitors to ‘go #OneLess’ and stop using single-use plastic bottles. Check out our shopfront in Carnaby, or enter the Time Out competition to win fantastic prizes and experiences in London that are all plastic-bottle-free. London has battled many foes in her time – war, plague, fire, marauding hordes – now we are taking on a modern-day supervillain, the plastic water bottle, with the help of the humble tap. 
 
London is known as a global epicentre of innovation and fashion and through the #OneLess movement, it can now be at the forefront of action against ocean plastic – adding to its iconic identity by becoming a place where people don’t buy or drink plastic bottled water because they truly care about the ocean. So, whether you’re a local or a visitor, turn on a tap or find a fountain and drink water the London way.


- This is a guest blog and may not represent the views of Virgin.com. Please see virgin.com/terms for more details. 

This post is part of a series produced by Virgin Unite in partnership with Ocean Unite, an initiative to unite and activate powerful voices for ocean-conservation action.

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