Many people feel ‘anxiety’ about asking for water for fear they will be accused by a waiter of being ‘too cheap to pay £2.50 for a bottle of water’, Mary Creagh said yesterday
Restaurants were accused yesterday of shaming people who ask for tap water with their meals
Many people feel ‘anxiety’ about asking for water for fear they will be accused by a waiter of being ‘too cheap to pay £2.50 for a bottle of water’, MPs said yesterday.
The Commons Environmental Audit committee is looking at ways of cutting down on the growing tide of plastic bottles and other rubbish piling up in rivers, seas, beaches and in the countryside.
The committee heard that restaurants are making customers feel ashamed for asking customers who ask for tap water with their meal – to sell bottles of water that end up being thrown away.
Mary Creagh MP, the committee’s chair said: ‘Isn’t it extraordinary as a condition of your licence you have to offer water, and yet every time you ask for it in a restaurant, it’s “Oh no. We don’t serve it.”
‘And yet their licence conditions stipulate that.’
She said she did not think that the legal requirement to provide free tap water in restaurants licensed to serve alcohol and pubs was widely known.
‘I was completely unaware of that and I think most people who eat out will be completely unaware of that.’
She said that some diners who want to get tap water, ‘most likely feel belittled’ by staff who say, “You’re too cheap to pay £2.50 for a bottle of water”.
She added that water often came from far-flung places – at great environmental cost – when tap water was just as good – and free.
‘There is that moment when the waiter says, “Oh no. Come on. You are here to spend money, spend some more on some water” – some of which has been imported from Fiji.’
She said that some diners who want to get tap water, ‘most likely feel belittled’ by staff who say, “You’re too cheap to pay £2.50 for a bottle of water”
‘So in terms of the carbon footprint of that bottle of water – that has come from an aquifer in the Far East – while Thames and Yorkshire water are providing this in abundance for free.’
She said it was ‘ridiculous’ people are being stopped from reducing the amount of rubbish they create use by restaurants who want to sell them bottled water.
Dan Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich said: ‘One of the challenges, for the woman or the man in the street, is that there is an anxiety about asking for free access to water.
‘I remember when I was a lot younger being charged for water in pubs, which fortunately isn’t the case any more – the Licensed Premises Act provides access to tap water.
‘But there is still in many people’s mind an anxiety about asking for that.’
The panel also heard that another way to cut down on plastic waste is to encourage the use of refillable bottles. But people also feel an anxiety asking for a refill.
Alex Sobel, MP for Leeds North West, asked whether fast food restaurants should offer free water refills – which they are not currently obliged to do.
Fiona Llewellyn, project manager of the One Use campaign, which is campaigning for a reduction in plastic waste said: ‘That is something that we would really encourage as well. One of the barriers people have to carrying these is the lack of places to fill them up. Airports are a nightmare.
Dan Poulter MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich said: ‘One of the challenges, for the woman or the man in the street, is that there is an anxiety about asking for free access to water’
‘If we can overcome the barriers to convenience for refilling that would be a wonderful step in the right direction to the problem of plastic pollution.’
She added that at least in London she had seen a ‘shift’ in restaurant’s attitudes, but she added: ‘You shouldn’t be made to feel belittled for asking for a glass of water.’
She also said that phone and computer apps were available which showed shops and restaurants that were happy to refill someone’s bottle, which might help take away the anxiety of asking for a refill.
Other methods to cut down on the huge amount of plastic bottles is to encourage a deposit scheme – which is planned for Scotland.
The Daily Mail is campaigning for a similar scheme in England with the Take Back Your Bottles campaign – aimed at combating the litter issues surrounding plastic bottles and poor recycling rates.
Nick Brown head of sustainability of Coca Cola UK said that the drinks giant now supports a deposit scheme.
He said: ‘We have seen that other countries which have a deposit scheme have improved recovery rates of packaging and reduced littering, which is important to us.
‘We understand that things need to change both with household waste collection and packaging on-the-go. We think a deposit scheme can work in that context.’
But he warned that unless the scheme was harmonised with Scotland, it would lead to people taking plastic bottles from one country, and cashing them in for refunds in the other.
Drivers should get points on their licence if they drop rubbish from their car, an anti-litter campaigner told the committee.
Derek Robertson of Keep Scotland Beautiful said: ‘We’ve got to change the culture of throwing out rubbish from cars and vehicles. We are keen to encourage the Scottish government to introduce penalty points for throwing litter from your vehicle.
Mr Robertson’s idea goes further than the British government’s anti-litter proposals. A leaked document earlier this year suggested one plan in the works is sending motorists who drop litter – or whose passengers do – a fixed charge penalty notice.