Millions of plastic bottles are sold around the world each minute. Many of those are water bottles that end up in the trash a few minutes later, despite the fact that the people who buy them are not far from a drinking fountain or a restaurant willing to refill a bottle.
A new app called Tap maps out those refill locations and gives walking directions to the closest place that you can get water without extra plastic. “So long as you carry your own bottle, you never have to buy a bottle of water ever again,” says Samuel Ian Rosen, founder and CEO of Tap.
Rosen, the cofounder and previous CEO of the storage company MakeSpace, started thinking about the problem of bottled water while traveling. The usual explanation of why people choose bottled water is convenience; Rosen believed that a large part of the problem is really that people just don’t know where they can refill a bottle of their own. He searched Google Maps for water fountains in New York City, and found nothing. “I think people drink bottled water because they can’t find water,” he says.
As of launch today, the app lists more than 34,000 refill stations in 30 countries. Some of the locations are traditional water fountains, while others are restaurants or stores, like Sweetgreen, Lululemon, or Adidas, that either have refill stations or are willing to refill a bottle over the counter as a way to draw in customers. “I just realized that all these places were already giving out free water and none of them had a map that connects all of it,” he says.
In the U.K., a similar app called Refill also lists restaurants and cafes that can refill water bottles; like Tap, the project also gives stickers to cafes to put in their windows to encourage people to come inside and ask for water. But Tap, with a global presence, plans to expand more quickly. The app will soon add a feature to let users add new refill stations to the list, and later plans to let users rate locations, so it can refer someone to the best-tasting water nearby. “By connecting water to the internet, we can now start reporting on the quality of water and use Tap as a search engine for thirst,” says Rosen.
The app also includes locations that offer refills of sparkling and flavored water–Penn State University, for example, has a free Aquafina station with flavored water, and others offer refills for a small fee. It could later expand to other drinks, Rosen says, like soda, kombucha, or beer taps where users can refill growlers. “The future is happening now,” he says. “PepsiCo bought SodaStream for $3.2 billion. That’s the number two player essentially saying our way to become number one is to go bottle-less, right? That’s what I see happening.”