The idea for Water for Free originated in 2013 in an effort to reduce the environmental damage caused by plastic bottles. Water for Free is a non-profit organisation under the project Go Green Hong Kong, which maps out the water fountains and dispensers throughout the city on Google Maps and publishes them online. Alarmed by the devastating amount of plastic waste, the organisation works to increase public awareness of plastic pollution issues and promote the use of water dispensers to reduce waste at the source.
The rampant use of plastics is causing significant environmental damage to the planet. Being made from fossil fuels, the production of plastics is a significant source of greenhouse gas emissions (Cho 2020). Once discarded after use, eight million tons of plastic waste escapes into the oceans annually around the world, causing long-term pollution as it takes over 400 years for plastics to break down (Parker 2019). Hong Kong uses a significant amount of plastics. According to the 2019 Waste Statistics issued by the Environmental Protection Department, plastics was the third largest constituent of municipal solid waste. Of the daily disposed amount of 2,320 tonnes per day, 8% (191 tonnes) was plastic bottles (EPD 2019), which is equivalent to over seven million bottles every day. The use of bottled water is heavily promoted by beverage companies, ironically in a city where tap water is generally safe to drink. In addition to environmental pollution, the widespread use of bottled water also fills up the city’s landfills.
The Water for Free app enables users to easily locate a water fountain or dispenser nearby and get access to drinking water for free, rather than paying for outrageously overpriced bottled water. Water for Free also finds providing water dispensers for free during outdoor events as a solution, where it recorded over three thousand participants refilling water bottles from the dispensers during an event. With the support from Great Eagle Holdings Limited and Healthy Seed, Water for Free also delivered water dispensers to schools and held talks and workshops on the environment. Water for Free also runs a campaign which encourages the public to suggest new water fountain locations to be added. This encourages and enables the public to reduce the use of plastic bottles.
The Water for Free app has been well received by the public as it has been downloaded around 50,000 times. Over 1,500 water dispenser locations in Hong Kong have been mapped out on the app, thanks to the growing number of users and their efforts in identifying new dispenser locations. In addition to the users’ notifications, both independent restaurants and community centres have contacted Water for Free, expressing their willingness for the public to use their water dispensers for free. By making the locations of water fountains available, together with awareness raising efforts, Water for Free facilitates users to reduce bottled water consumption.
EPD "Monitoring of Solid Waste in Hong Kong: Waste Statistics for 2019." Waste Data & Statistics, Waste Reduction Website, Environmental Protection Department, Hong Kong, November 2019. https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/sites/default/files/msw2019.pdf. Accessed 19 February 2021.
Parker, Laura. “The World’s Plastic Pollution Crisis Explained.” National Geographic. 7 June 2019. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/plastic-pollution. Accessed 19 February 2021.
Cho, Rene. “More Plastic Is On the Way: What It Means for Climate Change.” State of the Planet, Earth Institute. Columbia University, 20 Feb 2020. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2020/02/20/plastic-production-climate-change/#:~:text=Plastic%20not%20only%20poses%20an,it%20also%20exacerbates%20climate%20change.&text=This%20is%20because%20more%20than,every%20stage%20of%20its%20lifecycle. Accessed 29 February 2021.