The Water Refill App Changing Perceptions for a Sustainable Future

The water refill app "mymizu" connects people with over 200,000 stores and facilities worldwide that will refill their bottles for free, helping to cut down on the number of single-use plastic bottles used overall. We spoke with Mariko McTier, one of mymizu's co-founders, about the project's launch and vision.
“mymizu,” Japan’s first free water refill app, is simple and easy to use.

Boasting Over 200,000 Refill Spots Worldwide

"mymizu" is a water refill platform  launched in 2019 that maps out stores and facilities where users can fill up their reusable bottles for free. Becoming a mymizu refill partner, and offering free water, not only enables shops to contribute to the global effort to reduce plastic waste, but has the added advantage of increasing foot traffic to their stores.

There are currently more than 11,000 mymizu refill spots in Japan and over 200,000 across the globe. The app also enables users to track the number of single-use plastic bottles that they have saved. As of June 10, 2022, this figure stands at 511,000 bottles, a five-fold increase over the past year. There are about 3,150 refill spots in Tokyo alone, and the number of stores and facilities supporting the project and signing up as partners continues to grow.

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From coffee shops to sporting goods stores, a wide range of businesses are signing up as mymizu partners.

How did the idea for an app that lets users quickly locate free refill spots and ultimately cut down on single-use plastic bottles come about? Co-founder McTier explains.

"I was on a trip to Okinawa in 2018 and was shocked to see the beach covered in plastic bottles, despite the fact that Japan is a country that's been blessed with potable drinking water. I felt it was an issue we really could no longer afford to ignore, so I decided to launch the water refill app with my colleague."

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After graduating from the University of London, Mariko McTier worked at Chunichi Shimbun Co., Ltd.'s London branch and the British Embassy Tokyo before co-founding Social Innovation Japan in 2017. She says she has had a love of nature since she was a child.

Collaboration Requests from Every Direction

Social Innovation Japan (SIJ), the non-profit association that runs mymizu, was co-founded by McTier alongside Robin Takashi Lewis and Ono Keiko in 2017  with the goal of supporting individuals and businesses that are tackling social issues in Japan. SIJ has worked with corporations, government agencies, and social changemakers to not only think about what a sustainable society would look like, but to effect actual change. Mariko says that they were able to draw on this experience for the mymizu project as well.

"The problems facing the environment, and the climate crisis,  are such huge issues that you'll feel helpless if you try to think about how to address the root cause. That's why we started by launching the mymizu concept online and offering a solution to a problem lots of people have in common, and from there, we started getting requests for partnerships from all sorts of directions."

Through these partnerships, mymizu has carried out a number of campaigns with corporations, local governments, and educational institutions to promote the use of reusable bottles and cut down on single-use plastics. McTier has gotten the sense that there are a lot of companies out there, and not just those dealing with water, that want to create more sustainable products.

"In order to sell sustainable products, you first need to create a society where people care about environmental issues; that means companies and governments need to collaborate to bring together their know-how and networks. It's my hope that mymizu will act as a starting point for them and that sustainability will become the norm."

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The mymizu team holds beach-cleanup events, sometimes even together with companies and organizations.

Tokyo's Tap, Brimming with Benefits

McTier also pays attention to individual differences in the way people feel about water.

"Everyone has their own preference when it comes to taste, and there are generational differences in the attitudes people have toward water, too. Older people often say that buying bottled water is a waste, while a lot of the younger generation refrain from buying bottled drinks for both environmental and financial reasons, though they may end up buying them out of convenience once they start working. For people who don't like the taste of tap water, I recommend using a water filter. The first step really is to stop using water from a two-liter plastic bottle to cook with at home."

Tokyo's tap water benefits from strict quality inspection standards that ensure it is safe to drink. And according to McTier, the tap water in Tokyo tastes better than in other places around the world. As more people learn about the quality of the city's water and refill spots continue to increase, the number of people starting to carry reusable bottles is sure to climb.

On top of cutting down on single-use plastic bottles, mymizu has the potential to help people find drinking water when supply chains shut down during times of disaster and other emergencies. McTier says that mymizu can also bring people with shared environmental values together and help form a community. Taking the opportunity to think about our relationship with water, the most essential liquid in our lives, is the first step toward transforming our environment.

Interview and writing by Kubodera Junko
Photos courtesy of mymizu
Translation by Amitt