Free tap water: Will cafés be persuaded by a man with a bottle?

August 15, 2013

Thursday 15 Aug 2013 6:00 am

Edwin Broni-Mensah was a student with a simple goal – drink enough water every day to get ‘ripped’. This personal ambition sparked a scheme that improves lives across the world, simply by widening access to tap water.

‘I was on a fitness programme called P90X,’ says Broni-Mensah, ‘and trying to get a six-pack before I was 25 – it’s the ambition of all men, right? I was told to drink five litres of water every day and try to keep constantly hydrated on the go. I kept encountering cafés refusing to give me tap water.

‘What was equally frustrating, with both my parents being from Ghana, was knowing that millions of people don’t even have that access. We have it but we’re denied and told to drink expensive bottled water instead.’

University of Manchester graduate Broni-Mensah, now 28, set up GiveMeTap, a scheme in which you buy a £12 stainless steel bottle to refill with free tap water at one of hundreds of participating restaurants and cafés across the country.

Not only does this benefit dehydrated commuters (there are 750 faintings every year on the London Underground), it’s good for the environment, as it cuts the use of harmful plastics. Broni-Mensah promises that for every two bottles sold, one person in a developing country gets clean drinking water for life.

‘We see this as a global scheme to solve a global problem, which is accessibility to water,’ he says. ‘There are 300million people in Africa who don’t have access to clean water so it was the natural place to start. My dad would tell me about his experiences of not being able to get clean water. That compelled me to continue with even more conviction.

‘I recently came back from Ghana where we just finished a project in a place called Kpakpalamuni. There is a community of 850 people who now have a bore hole that is going to provide them all with access to water. We have another five projects planned over the next six months.’

Surely he faced reluctance from café owners fearful of jeopardising profits, not to mention the bottled water industry, which is worth £1.6billion in Britain alone.

‘I started targeting places with an ethical and sustainable core,’ says Broni-Mensah. ‘They understood the issue of plastic wastage so were more inclined to sign up.

‘Quite a few places told me to get out because they wanted to sell bottled water, the same way some won’t let you use their toilets unless you buy something first.

‘I hope to go back when we’re more established and show them this is actually a great opportunity to attract customers, for free, into their stores who may never have come in before. Mineral water is crazily expensive. As an organisation, we’re not saying bottled water doesn’t have its place.

‘It’s convenient for people and that’s why I assume we’ve been drinking it for the past 20 or 30 years but what we’re trying to do is make tap water as convenient by making it accessible everywhere you can buy bottled water.’

GiveMeTap customers go online or download a free smartphone app to find their nearest water point. In London, the firm aims to be within 400m from each Zone 1 station.

Broni-Mensah, who lives in Edmonton, north London, says he’s already signed up enough businesses to cover the areas surrounding three Tube lines in central London, plus Bristol, Bath, York and Edinburgh. ‘We’ve expanded to the Netherlands, France and Ireland,’ he adds, ‘and in the US we have about ten cafés in Colorado signed up, which have the same kind of ethos around reducing plastic wastage.’