Established in 2015, Urban Spring is a Hong Kong-based social start-up company aimed at encouraging the city’s residents to become conscious consumers and less reliant on buying water in single-use plastic bottles. Urban Spring aims to develop a comprehensive and accessible smart-tech water refill network across the city that can contribute to reducing plastic waste and pollution by eliminating the need for plastic water bottles.
Globally, more than a million plastic bottles are purchased every minute. Hong Kong people throw away 5.2 million plastic bottles every day and plastic disposable consumer products contribute over 80% of Hong Kong’s marine litter (Ng, 2017). Humans have produced over eight billion tonnes of plastics to date and will contribute at least 10 billion tonnes of plastic waste by 2050 if current production trends continue (Geyer et al., 2017). Furthermore, fewer than 10% of plastic bottles were recycled and reused as new bottles, and the majority of discarded bottles end up in landfills and the ocean. There is growing evidence that marine ecosystems are increasingly affected by plastic pollution. A particular concern is when large plastic debris breaks down into microplastics and are ingested by marine organisms that make up the human food chain (Law and Thompson, 2014).
By building a water refill network in Hong Kong and providing accessible water refill points around Hong Kong, Urban Spring works to reduce the use of and reliance on plastic bottles. Urban Spring reinvents traditional water refilling points by developing Well井, an innovative and smart water refill station that takes advantage of the latest digital technology. Each Well井 refill station has an eye-catching modern design and is powered by smart sensors and a self-monitoring system that ensures hygienic conditions and water quality. Urban Spring works with clients across multiple sectors, including schools, universities, hotels, shopping centres and offices, to provide a comprehensive one-stop service for the installation, monitoring and maintenance of Well井 refilling stations.
Urban Spring is continually refining their business model to further promote the idea of urban water fountains and to cater for a growing population of environmentally-conscious consumers. There are now over 320 Well井 refilling stations across Hong Kong in 2020. By refilling their reusable bottles, Hong Kong has saved more than 5.1 million plastic bottles which is equivalent to 8.1 million kg of CO2 gas. Partnering with social innovators, Urban Spring has also sought to increase their outreach through school educational programmes and social entrepreneurship workshops that highlight the urgency of plastic pollution in Hong Kong and support new innovative ideas to tackle the plastic crisis. The social enterprise targets corporates, shopping malls and hotels as paying clients who lease its Well井 fountains for three-year terms. By providing data, and pilot programs to these clients, Urban Spring is able to demonstrate direct savings, together with environmental social governance (ESG) and corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits for its clients while also encouraging customers , those who use the fountains, to take a more responsible approach to consumption. Their flagship, long-term education programme, “Unfriend Plastic”, engages with school children through interactive workshops to promote STEM education and installs Well井 stations at schools to reduce single-use plastic bottles.
Geyer, R., Jambeck, J.R. and Law, K.L. “Production, use, and fate of all plastics ever made.” Science Advances, 3(7), p.e1700782, 2017.
Law, K.L. and Thompson, R.C. “Microplastics in the seas.” Science, 345(6193), pp.144-145, 2014.
Ng, Y. “Hong Kong throws away 5.2 million bottles every single day – is it time to ban sale of the plastic disposables?” South China Morning Post, 20 Oct. 2017. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/health-environment/article/2116318/hong-kong-throws-away-52-million-bottles-every. Accessed 12 October 2020.