Modern Water Dispensers: Shifting Consumers Off Plastic

By Jennie Wong 18 April, 2019

Urban Spring's Wong explains how the new drinking water refill experience could cut plastic bottle use

HK’s drinking water supply is among the safest in the world; it conforms with WHO standards but despite this there is no trust in drinking fountains & instead the public prefers bottled water
The environmental impact of bottled water is alarming: 5.5mn plastic bottles are discarded in HK per day with 14/15 of them not recycled; by 2050, plastic in the ocean is set to outweigh fish
Urban Spring has developed a network of water refill stations called Well井 which show users the number of bottles saved after each refill; so far, they have saved >1.3mn single-use plastic bottles

According to the Water Supplies Department, Hong Kong’s drinking water supply is among the safest in the world: it conforms to the Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality recommended by the World Health Organization. Despite this, traditional drinking fountains are generally regarded as not trustworthy as they are deemed unhygienic and unappealing. That’s why the public prefers consuming bottled water.

HK’s recycling system cannot digest the huge amount of PET & our landfill is expected to be full by 2019

However unfortunately, our recycling system in Hong Kong cannot digest the huge amount of PET bottle waste everyday, and our landfill is expected to be fully loaded by 2019, which is this year. The only effective way out is to reduce plastic waste from the source.

A staggering plastic waste problem in Hong Kong

The environmental impact of bottled water is alarming. To manufacture one bottle of water, three times the amount of water is utilised. Owing to the chemical production of plastics, this water is mostly unusable. With such an elaborate production process, plastic PET bottles are built to last, but not in a good way. If un-recycled, they sit around for 450 years before they get completely broken down.

Hong Kong throws away almost 5,500,000 plastic water bottles every day, and 14 out of 15 of these bottles are not recycled, with some being ingested by marine animals, which are eventually consumed by humans. By 2050, plastic in the oceans will outnumber the amount of fish.

HK throws away almost 5,500,000 plastic water bottles every day & 14 out of 15 of these bottles are not recycled

Given the severity of the problem globally, many major cities are taking action to ban single-use plastics. The Hong Kong government has announced a ban on the sale of plastic water bottles of less than one litre at any of its premises. The new policy covers some 1,500 vending machines at government-run sports complexes, performance venues, offices, parks, car parks, transport interchanges and ferry piers, according to the Environment Bureau, effective from February 20, 2018.

Many major cities are taking action & the HK govt has announced a ban on the sale of plastic water bottles of <1L at any of its premises

There are about 1,800 water fountains at public sports grounds managed by the Leisure and Cultural Services Department, but the locations are generally far from high people traffic commercial or shopping areas where most single-use bottled water are being consumed. Single-use bottled water is still cheap and easily accessible in convenient stores, newspaper stalls or pharmacies, which contribute to the preference of the general public in buying bottled water over refilling or drinking from government installed drinking fountains.

Would a modern water dispenser be the way forward?

Urban Spring, a local social enterprise, sees a gap and has committed to offer a sustainable alternative. The drinking water refill experience needs to be redefined and the trust of refilling water in the public area needs to be re-established. In the past three years, Urban Spring has designed and developed a network of well-designed and well-maintained water refill stations called Well井 that serves clean and good-tasting drinking water at the push of a button.

Urban Spring has developed a network of water refill stations called Well井 that serves clean drinking water at the push of a button

Its commercial-grade water filtration, smart sensors and real-time monitoring system enable timely maintenance of the quality, hygiene and safety levels of the water. The water station is ultra slim which can be easily installed in a variety of locations. Its sleek and contemporary aesthetic design is compatible with the design of modern architecture. All you need is a reusable bottle or cup, and you can drink from Well井 wherever it is available.

Through the LCD screen on the water station, users are able to see the accumulative number of plastic bottles saved after each refill

Besides the exterior design, Urban Spring ensures the good condition of the water refill stations by collecting data about the operating status and filter efficiency on a daily basis. Engagement is also key to enable behavioural change. Through the LCD screen on the water station, users are able to see the accumulative number of plastic bottles saved after each refill. Users are encouraged to participate and continue to take these small steps for making a change in Hong Kong.

As of 28 February 2019, the network of Well water stations has saved more than 1,340,000 single-use plastic bottles. To optimise the effectiveness of city management and improve sustainability, it is crucial to utilise innovation and technology to address issues. Urban Spring is going to launch the next generation of Well, which is developed based on an open-source IoT (Internet of Things) infrastructure for data collection, processing, analytics and device management.

“Hong Kong is far from being a world class smart city.”

Hong Kong is far from being a world class smart city. Data is key to enable behavioural change at an individual level, as well as for private and public sector leaders to make the right decisions in integrating the type of technology and policy to enhance the infrastructure of Hong Kong and to better lives.

Further Reading

  • 3°C Transition Risks: It’s H2O, Not Just CO2 – 3°C is happening. This means we need to invest so we are ready for longer droughts, more intense & frequent floods, more damaging typhoons, as well as changing monsoon patterns and river flows. China Water Risk’s Dharisha Mirando & Debra Tan warns.
  • Are Asia’s Savings Exposed To Water & Climate Risks? – Asian asset owners have portfolios skewed towards domestic markets that will bear the brunt of climate change. Find out about these risks and what to do as our Dharisha Mirando shares key takeaways from the new report China Water Risk co-authored with Manulife Asset Management & the Asia Investor Group on Climate Change
  • India’s Water Policies: Just Feel Good Documents? – Chetan Pandit, former #2 of India’s Central Water Commission, joins Professor Asit Biswas from the National University of Singapore in a “no holds barred” review on what’s gone wrong with India’s water management in the past 31 years
  • More From Less: Building Water Resilience – Water and climate are really two sides of the same coin so what are the holistic solutions that can build resilience? Bluetech’s Paul O’Callaghan sat down with Ecolab & Aquatech experts to explore these and more
  • Confronting Storms & Climate Risk In HK – Typhoons Hato and Mangkhut have wreaked havoc in the Greater Bay Area but Dr. Faith Chan from the University of Nottingham Ningbo believes these climate risks can be confronted, with Hong Kong leading the way


  • Eight Million: China & The Global Plastic Challenge – Sustainable Asia’s Marcy Trent Long & Sam Bekemans share their new podcast series “Eight Million”, which looks into the plastic waste pollution issue globally & in China and what is being done. China Water Risk is featured in episode 2
  • Plastic, China & The Circular Economy – Can we avoid more plastics than fish by 2050? Only around 10% of plastics gets recycled, but this is where opportunities lie. Woodring, founder of Plasticity Forum, shares key points from the 5th annual forum on the circular future of plastic
Jennie Wong
Author: Jennie Wong
Jennie Wong has been an intern at Urban Spring since 2018. Realizing the importance of creating a smart city, Jennie examines the environmental and water management policies in Hong Kong. She is extensively involved in researches about the water consumption pattern and plastic waste issues. Currently, Jennie is a LLB student at City University of Hong Kong. Her professional interest lies in environmental law.
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