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Almost a billion bottles flying off the shelves: campaigners call for water dispensers to oust plastic water bottles


  • Eight of the top UK supermarkets sold almost 1bn plastic water bottles last year
  • Tesco, Aldi and Lidl do not offer customers water dispensers
  • Campaigners urge supermarkets to drastically cut plastic water bottle sales
  • Supermarkets urged to introduce water dispensers and refill stations for soft drinks

 LONDON: Plastic from bottled water is soaring, as UK supermarkets reveal they sold almost one billion plastic water bottles in 2018.

Supermarkets surveyed by the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace reported that sales of plastic water bottles increased 8.2 per cent from the six leading supermarkets which provided year-on-year figures. None of the top 10 UK supermarkets offer water dispensers across all stores for customers to refill their own reusable bottles.

Campaigners are calling for retailers to drastically cut plastic water bottle sales and install water dispensers in store. Retailers must also force brands to offer soft drinks from refill stations so customers can refill their own bottles and help themselves.

Juliet Phillips, Ocean Campaigner for EIA, said: “Single-use water bottles might seem convenient but their impact on the environment is anything but.

“There’s untapped potential for a refill revolution in the drinks market. We urge supermarkets to work with brands to make these options available and accessible to customers across the country.”

Fiona Nicholls, Ocean Plastics Campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said: “Plastic bottles and caps are the top plastic items polluting our beaches, yet despite this UK supermarkets keep selling more and more of them. This has to stop.

“Supermarkets need to get throwaway plastic water bottles off their shelves and enable customers to fill up their own bottles in store, from water or soft drinks dispensers.”

The forthcoming report, Checking Out on Plastics II: Breakthroughs and backtracking from supermarkets on plastics, will be published on Thursday (28 November). It reveals:

  • six supermarkets reported they sold 788.3m bottles in 2017 and eight supermarkets sold 1.04bn bottles last year;
  • Asda and Sainsbury’s did not report how many bottles of water they sold in either year;
  • customers at Tesco, Aldi and Lidl do not have access to water dispensers
  • where other supermarkets offer taps, they’re limited to cafes or are only available in new stores.

Aldi, Iceland, Tesco and Waitrose all increased their sales of plastic water bottles between 2017 and 2018. At Iceland, plastic water bottle sales increased by 20.5m, up more than a fifth.

Campaigners support the installation of refill stations for soft drinks. These could replicate those on offer in food outlets such as Nando’s or Subway. The Dasani water brand is already rolling out self-service machines in the US and some supermarkets already offer similar machines for branded coffee, such as Costa. A third option for refill stations could be in the form of soft drinks hoses, as are common in pubs.

Recycling collection rates for plastic bottles in the UK are stagnant around 59 per cent, demonstrating the need to drastically reduce how many plastic bottles we’re making in the first place as well as the importance of improving plastic bottle recycling.

Former Environment Secretary Michael Gove had backed an all-inclusive deposit return scheme for bottles, but the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has since distanced itself from plans for an all-in scheme.

EIA and Greenpeace call for reduction and reuse strategies to be complemented by the introduction of an all-inclusive deposit return scheme which covers cans and bottles of all sizes and materials.


Aldi Asda Co-op Iceland Lidl M&S Morrisons Sainsbury’s Tesco Waitrose Total
2018 437.5m 20.5m 96m 16m 215m 3.3m


(six supermarkets)

2019 477.6m (+9.2%) 19.7m (-4%) 116.5m (+21.4%) 58m 15m (-6.7%) 129m 221m (+2.8%) 3.4m (+3%)


(eight supermarkets)

In-store water refills? X Cafes only Trials started Trials started X Cafes only In cafes and installing in new stores Cafes only X In cafes and installing in new stores



  • Paul Newman, EIA Press & Communications Officer, via press[at]
  • Emily Davies, Greenpeace UK Plastics Press Officer, via emily.davies[at]



  1. Read and download last year’s supermarket survey. In 2018, our report noted that six supermarkets had sold 504m bottles of water. This year, supermarkets provided additional information to update that figure to 788.3m.
  2. Plastic bottles are the second most commonly found item on beach cleans (after cigarette butts) and bottle caps are fourth most common. Combined, they are the top form of plastic pollution found on global beach cleans. Ocean Conservancy 2016 annual report.
  3. Recycling collection rates for plastic bottles in the UK are stagnant at about 59 per cent (Source: Recoup: UK Household Plastics Collection Survey 2018)
  4. Following submission of the original figures from supermarkets, Aldi provided updated data of 210,512,750 bottles for 2017 and 242,214,841 for 2018