Refill Germany: Drinking more tap water saves the environment

Written by Kimberly Nicolaus


Drinking water and sanitation are recognized as fundamental human rights and are guaranteed in Germany. The country’s tap water is high-quality but still, a lot of people buy plastic bottles. It needs the volunteer work of non-profit-organization Refill Germany as an eye-opener in order to use the offer and to buy fewer plastic bottles.

Around 2,1 billion people worldwide have no access to clean and consistent available drinking water even though it’s a human right, states the United Nations World Water Report 2019. In Germany, this right is guaranteed by free high-quality tap water, but still, Germans often buy water in supermarkets. According to German Environmental Aid (DUH), the average German person consumes 192 disposable plastic bottles a year and produces in total around 220-kilogram packaging waste in total, which is more than the European average.

“Constantly buying a new water bottle is not necessary”, says Lea Mika, the 26-year-old voluntary worker of Refill Germany. This is a nationwide movement that started in Hamburg, Germany, in March 2017 after Stephanie Wiermann had brought the idea from Bristol, United Kingdom to Germany. It aims to make free drinking water more easily available to the public in order to avoid plastic waste. Therefore, voluntary workers of Refill Germany mark restaurants and cafés with a Refill sticker which are part of the environmental initiative. People can fill their own bottles there with tap water for free.

“I was used to the problem of buying a 0,5-liter plastic water bottle just during travelling in town”, says Hannah Lena Flechtker, the 27-year-old volunteer worker, explaining her reason for joining Refill Germany. Both Lea and Hannah Lena are responsible for the expansion of the environmental initiative in Stuttgart. “Here, we now have 85 Refill stations including around twelve drinking fountains”, says Hannah Lena. Stuttgart is one of more than 60 cities in Germany where the organization actively advocates that people get free drinking water nearly everywhere.

According to information of the civil engineering office Stuttgart, the city’s drinking fountains will be put into operation between April and May and will run until the end of October, weather permitting. That’s why Refill Germany seems to be even more important in winter in order to fill up free tap water, at least during opening hours. “Many restaurant owners come up to us because they want to support the idea of Refill Germany”, says Hannah Lena. The argument that restaurant owners would have more costs when they provide free drinking water does not make sense in the view of the voluntary workers. Lea explains: “One liter of tap water costs 0.2 cents, that’s why it should not be an issue.”

However, there are a lot of improvements to be expected. The European Commission adopted a proposal for a recast of the 21 years old Drinking Water Directive last year. Among others, it says that the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) believes that “member states should encourage the provision of tap water in restaurants, either free of charge (as proposed by the Commission) or for a small service charge.” Any new regulations have not yet come into force. The negotiations are scheduled to take place in the second half of this year. “A recast of the Drinking Water Directive is not negative for us. If Refill Germany eventually does no longer exist because there’s no need for it anymore, then we’re happy”, says Lea.