Plastic cash – is money for water bottles the answer?

Bottled Water

Date published: 
13 April 2017

Key facts

  • Londoners consume more plastic bottled water per person than anywhere else in England.
  • London has some of the worst recycling rates in the UK.
  • Plastic bottles make up 10 per cent of all litter found in the Thames.
  • Three quarters of the flounder swimming in the Thames had consumed plastic.

Our findings

The London Assembly Environment Committee investigated the environmental impacts of plastic water bottles in London. The findings include:

  • Plastic waste is a growing problem in London. Waste created by plastic packaging creates a number of challenges for the environment, polluting London’s rivers and subsequently impacting on river and marine life.
  • Providing tap water as an alternative is essential if the growing consumption of plastic bottled water is to be controlled or reduced.
  • More plastic water bottles have to be recycled. Too many currently end up in landfill or in the natural environment. 

During the investigation the Committee heard a number of ways to provide alternatives to plastic bottled water, which deserve further investigation. However, it is important that the consumption of bottled water does not fall if it means people drink more sugary drinks. This means that any policy interventions must be carefully designed.

Improving London’s poor recycling rates is an ongoing challenge for the Mayor and boroughs. Deposit Return Schemes have been successfully introduced elsewhere and may offer one way to increase plastic bottle recycling. Government should look at implementing a national scheme.


  • The Mayor must address plastic water bottle waste specifically in his upcoming Environment Strategy. 
  • The Mayor should explore the feasibility of a Deposit Return Scheme in London, with a view to approaching Government for London to be a trial site for a nation-wide scheme.
  • The Mayor should explore a number of options to reduce plastic water bottle waste, including:
    • encouraging community water refill schemes
    • improving access to tap water across the TfL network
    • ending the sale of plastic bottled water on GLA premises
    • engaging with Business Improvement Districts to trial measures in specific areas of London
    • promoting apps to help consumers locate free tap water
    • convening stakeholders through the Plastics Industry Recycling Action Plan.

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