Selfridges, the fashionable London department store, has stopped selling bottled water, removing it from the Foodhall (Selfridges calls its produce markets “Foodhalls”) shelves, and also from the store’s restaurants. This will save around 400,000 bottles per year. Even assuming all of those bottles get recycled, that’s 400,000 fewer bottles being manufactured and transported. It’s easy to forget that recycling is something of a band-aid on the problem of excess consumption.
Customers won’t go thirsty, though. Selfridges has installed water fountains in store so that you can fill your own bottles, a service not as commonplace in the UK as it is in the U.S. Don’t have a bottle? They thought of that too. The handy thing about being a department store is that Selfridges can sell you a fancy reusable bottle instead. There’s even a custom search to help you out (Although my favorite choice, the Klean Kanteen Reflekt, in taste-free, last-forever stainless steel, isn’t on the list).
The bottle ban is part of Selfridges Project Ocean, a five-year-old partnership between the store and The Zoological Society of London, aimed at keeping plastic out of the world’s oceans. And Selfridges profile makes it something of a fashion leader. Literally. The store is home to many high-end brands, and this bottle ban may convince normally selfish socialites to switch to reusable bottles.
The bottled water makers are, understandably, not going to sit idly by. Chloe Bilgorri of the Natural Hydration Council, which counts big water bottlers like Nestle and Danone as members, says that “whilst it is encouraging to see any improvement to access to water where choice is limited, cases from the U.S. have shown that when people can’t buy bottled water they will opt for another packaged soft drink.”
One such case is a study carried out at the University of Vermont. Researchers found discovered that, when bottled water was removed from sale, “sales of sugar-free beverages and sugar-sweetened beverages increased.”
Even worse, the goal of the ban–to reduce waste bottles–failed. “The bottled water ban did not reduce the number of bottles entering the waste stream from the university campus.”
Bilgorri also notes that bottled water “has the lowest environmental impact of all soft drinks.” Not surprising, as it’s just a bottle, filled with water, a process you could complete yourself, for free.