At Water for Free, we have given many school talks to educate students about plastic waste pollution. But giving talks is not enough, we need to foster behavioural change. Although most schools have water dispensers, with filters that are replaced regularly, the dispensers always look old and unappealing.  In contrast, a few meters from these dispensers there are always a couple of colourful, attractive vending machines with soft drinks, water and juices displayed in nicely lit-up panels. Our conclusion was, we needed better looking and functioning water dispensers to level the playing field.

Thanks to a small donation from LUSH, we were able to prove this hypothesis by installing dispensers – that provide both warm and cold water – at a few primary schools. Pat Heung Central Primary School was one of them. We also gave educational talks to their primary 4, 5 and 6 classes. This particularly enlightened school already banned bottled water sales on campus. Notwithstanding the ban, when asked how many of them have consumed bottled water in the past week, more than one third of the students raised up their hands. It is no wonder Hong Kongers “produce” 6 million+ PET beverage bottles per day that are destined for the landfills.

When we showed the students photos of turtles eating plastic bags, and the carcasses of sea birds with their stomaches full of plastic and explained that in fact microplastic has already entered our food chain, a student gave the following ‘smart cookie’ response: “I don’t eat seafood. I only eat vegetables. Hence it’s no problem for me!”  We explain to her that she’s not immune to plastic pollution because recent studies have shown that microplastic has started to contaminate our salt and tap and bottled water (with bottled water actually containing more plastic).

Everyone was touched when we showed them part of the documentary film “Plastic China” which features a girl of their age living a life atop piles of plastic waste. At the end of our talk, we asked them what can they do to help. Many raised their hands and said “say no to bottled water”. Since over 90% of them have mobile phones, we also invited them to download Water for Free mobile app and help to add new locations to our map.

When we saw them lining up with great excitement at our newly installed water dispenser to refill their water bottles during recess, we concluded there are solutions to plastic waste pollution. The key is to not only education but enabling behavioural change by providing an attractive alternative to bottled water – thereby addressing a key shortcoming our current system. If your school or community centre is interested in our programs, please contact us at waterforfreehk@gmail.com.