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Fight plastic waste: Refill water bottles at French store

Shoppers in France can now buy self-service filtered water in bulk, as more consumers are choosing to buy their food using their own reusable containers, in a bid to cut down on plastic packaging and waste.

The water comes from a high-tech water fountain called H2Origine, created by Natarys, a small company founded in 2007 and based in the Loire-Atlantique (Pays de la Loire).

The machines have started to be rolled out across health food and organic food shops in France, with some shops offering reusable glass or plastic bottles for consumers to fill up and reuse, and others allowing customers to bring in their own bottles for use.

Shoppers can then fill their containers with filtered water directly from the fountain, allowing them to significantly cut down on single-use plastic bottles and packaging. People can normally fill up their reusable containers as many times as they choose - but are advised to clean them thoroughly between uses.

Filtration system

The H2Origine machines connect directly to mains water, but filter it four times - firstly with active charcoal, then sediment filter, then osmosis, and then post-filter active charcoal. This is intended to clean the water of any excess chlorine and limestone, as well as pesticide residues, heavy metals or medicines that may be in the mains supply.

Secondly, the machine then “dynamises” the water, which means it alters the structure of the water molecules using high frequency waves, to bring it as close to natural mineral water as possible.

Consumers can choose from either still or sparkling water, which can be used for cooking, drinking, and even in bottles and food for infants and small children.

Laure de Colombel, communications manager at Natarys, told news source “It achieves a very good quality water that is close to low-mineral water such as [the brand] Mont Roucous, for example, which is recommended for use in [babies’] bottles.”

Natarys also offers filtered water at home via taps using a similar system - including one kind for cooking and another for drinking - but installation of the domestic taps can cost between €1,500-€3,000 each.

Ms de Colombel said: “Using it at home is obviously ideal…[but] offering it self-service in a shop gives consumers a less costly solution, which may help them decide how useful it might be to have the system at home [in future].”

Thomas Beslier, owner of health food shop Origin'bio in Plurien, near Saint-Brieuc in the Côtes-d'Armor (Brittany), which is so far the only shop to offer the fountains in the department, told "We are always looking for solutions to reduce our waste, and plastic bottles make up 80% of our plastic rubbish.

"We have clients who come to us with 80% of their trolley in bulk, but also have three packs of water [in single-use plastic]. It makes no sense."


Packaging laws

Excess plastic packaging has become a hot topic in France in recent months, with junior ecology minister Brune Poirson introducing a new #LoiAntiGaspillage [#AntiWasteLaw], set to come into force from 2021.

The law, which was voted through in February this year, will aim to force supermarkets and shops to eliminate excess plastic and non-recyclable packaging. It will include some bans - including on materials such as expanded polystyrene - but will also introduce a penalty system for some products.

This will mean that they may become too expensive to produce, effectively forcing them off the market and requiring their manufacturers to choose more eco-friendly alternatives.

In June, Ms Poirson tweeted a photo of some hard-boiled eggs wrapped in plastic and polystyrene packaging from the supermarket giant Leclerc, saying that the new law would “see the removal of these aberrations”.

In response, Leclerc said that it was already taking steps to reduce its plastic use, including removing 14 tonnes of plastic from ice cream packets, and other products.

In September 2019, the French Senate voted to allow consumers to use their own containers when buying food and drink, but said that consumers would be responsible for the suitability and cleanliness of their containers, and that shops must list the rules clearly, along with hygiene recommendations for safe use.

Indeed, Ms de Colombel, from Natarys, added the caveat: “As this is self-service water, we cannot guarantee the hygiene of the bottles used by the consumer. That is their responsibility.”

Related stories

French supermarket Leclerc criticised for plastic use

French senate allows food shoppers to use own boxes

Plastic-eating enzyme ‘revolutionises recycling’

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