We spoke to 2017 Nudge Global Impact Challenge wild card participant Hella Hekkelman. What started off as her sustainability impact plan is now in the works. Read more below on Refill Ambassadors.
What is Refill Ambassadors?
Every second, millions of plastic water bottles are thrown away after a single use. Time for change! The idea of Refill Ambassadors is to establish low-cost water refill points for travellers. People bring their empty (durable) bottles and a smile. All refill points are located on Refill Apps, so they can be easily found.
Tell us about yourself and how this journey began
I grew up on a houseboat in Amsterdam, with about 180 days of rain per year and clean tap water. How different from most parts of the world! When I was traveling in Vietnam in 2010 I had to buy new plastic water bottles every day and I felt bad about the plastic waste. In one eco-restaurant I was offered to refill my empty water bottle from a large tank. I searched for more refill points, but there were none to be found. Next town, same problem. After a while I gave up. But a dream was born: to set-up water refill points for travellers.
It took me 7 years to start Refill Ambassadors. I finished my studies Industrial Design Engineering at TU Delft and started working for the sustainable fashion brand Kuyichi and later on for onna-onna, a small financial company. The project idea was still there, but I did not make time for it. Until I applied for the Nudge Global Impact Challenge and got a wildcard.
Has the Challenge changed your life? If so, how?
During that time I was already going through a process of major transitions in my life, for example my job was ending.. I feel the Challenge helped to speed up this process. Sharing my ideas with fellow participants was very useful to gain feedback and encouragement to follow my dream.
Did the Challenge change or affect your initial sustainability impact plan? How?
One of my personal challenges is that I’m always full of ideas and find it hard to choose. Instead of one I submitted two sustainability impact plans, but I also could have sent eight. The Challenge made me aware on the importance of focus. I was also inspired by Vincent Stanley (Director of Philosophy at Patagonia) when he said: “Meet people where they are.”
What impact have you made with your project and what impact are you hoping to make in the future?
These days I am trying to start new refill points in Amsterdam (e.g. in bars, restaurants), and to map them to existing Refill Apps so they can be easily found. Secondly, I am connecting local and global stakeholders from different refill projects. Through collaboration, we can create a much bigger impact.
My approach is to start small and think big. The ultimate goal is to have water refill points in every city and every hike, including areas where tap water is non-potable, so you never need to buy plastic bottles anymore.
What do you need now to make Refill Ambassadors a success?
Many things! I want to increase the number of refill points, publicity and work towards project funding. But most of all, dare to fail, learn and stay positive.