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Sustainability and Water - An Interview with mymizu

Sustainability has been a hot topic in recent times, with people, places, and countries becoming more environmentally aware of waste and plastic usage. Especially in terms of single use plastics and plastic water bottles, the movement to reduce the number used is growing. 

We talked with Robin and Mariko, the creators of the mymizu movement, which through its app helps people to find water refill stations all across Japan and the UK to limit plastic usage. We learned much about the company and its values, so let's get into it!

Hello! Thank you for joining us. To start us off, could you please give us a short introduction of yourselves?

Hi! We are Robin and Mariko, two British-Japanese social entrepreneurs based in Japan. We’ve been working in sustainability and social impact for two decades combined and are passionate about building solutions to societal problems with creativity, technology and community.

For those who are unfamiliar, how did mymizu come to be and what does the company focus on?

mymizu was born on a tropical island in southern Japan. On a walk one day, we came across an entire beach covered in litter. Amongst all of the scattered waste, there was one culprit that stood out in number; single-use PET bottles. That was the moment we saw a great opportunity to take meaningful action; to tackle the problem at the source and build a movement for sustainable living. Japan is one of the world’s largest consumers of plastic packaging when looking at a per capita basis, so we knew we had a major challenge ahead of us.

mymizu is a tech-driven, community-centred movement to tackle plastic waste and promote sustainable living. The free mymizu app - available on iOS and Android devices - is a crowd-sourced platform connecting people to 12,000+ free water refill stations (water fountains and partner stores) across Japan and 200,000 globally. At these locations, you can refill your water bottle for free, instead of buying plastic water bottles - it’s good for the planet, your body and your wallet!

Where did the name ‘mymizu’ come from?

In Japan, many reusable items start with the prefix ‘my’. For example, a reusable bottle is often called a ‘my bottle’, reusable chopsticks are ‘my hashi’, and reusable bags are ‘my bags’. And ‘water’ in Japanese is ‘mizu’.

By combining these in the name “mymizu”, we saw an opportunity to play on an existing sustainability concept, whilst adding a fresh angle. Not only did the name have alliteration, but we thought it would be easy to remember too!

Where do you see mymizu in the future?

As a co-created, community-driven initiative, people are at the centre of everything we do.
Since launching in 2019, we have collaborated with a vast range of partners, from schools and universities, to global brands and local governments, and these partnerships are critical to scaling our impact.

A few examples include: partnering with Nike on a campaign to engage thousands of runners to hydrate without single-use plastic, collaborating with school children in Okinawa to make a plastic-free island, and organising beach cleans with hundreds of volunteers to get our hands dirty and really understand the problem.

Meanwhile, the refill spot information shown in the app is crowdsourced, each spot added by someone - whether it be a shop registered by their owner, or a water fountain in the park photographed and uploaded by someone on their morning walk. Some are also added by local government representatives who are seeking ways for public fountains to be better used by residents and tourists alike.

We have some 2,400 partner stores that are part of mymizu’s network, ranging from major companies like IKEA, Patagonia and Hilton Hotel, to small family-run businesses across all of Japan’s 47 Prefectures.

Going forward, we plan to continue scaling up our collaborations and partnerships, and our goal by 2025 is to have mymizu spots in every single one of Japan’s 1,000+ municipalities, ultimately making a new social infrastructure that is highly accessible and not reliant on single-use plastic.

What is one of the most important things that people should be aware of sustainability wise in their everyday lives?

When it comes to plastic waste, we cannot recycle our way out of the problem! Even as recycling efficiency improves, we have to re-design our systems to enable and empower people to fundamentally reduce the amount of plastic we use.
When I was a child, we were taught about the importance of the 3 R’s are (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle - in that order!) to be responsible citizens. Now, many people talk about 7 R’s:  Rethink, Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repair, Regift, and Recycle (or compost!), and there are more ways than ever before for us to live sustainably.
While recycling is an important part of the solution, the reality is that our recycling systems can't keep up with the vast amount of plastic waste we produce. And the production and recycling processes themselves also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Plus, plastic degrades when recycled, so recycling often doesn’t make economic sense. In fact, only 9% of the plastic ever produced has been recycled.

That’s why many across Japan - including the national government, companies and universities - are trying to accelerate the shift towards a circular economy.

What is a circular society, and where does mymizu fit within it?

A circular society operates on principles of sustainability, aiming to eliminate waste and continuously reuse resources. Unlike the traditional linear model of "take, make, waste," it focuses on three principles.
The first principle is to design out waste and pollution, fundamentally rethinking how products and processes are conceived to eliminate waste from the outset. The second principle emphasises keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, through strategies like reuse, repair, remanufacturing, and recycling, to extend their lifecycle and minimise the demand for new resources. Lastly, a circular society advocates for regenerating natural systems, promoting practices that enhance and restore the environment, allowing the natural resources we rely on to recover and thrive.

This approach reduces environmental impact, conserves resources, and fosters a healthier planet for ourselves and for future generations.

mymizu is a circular solution in that our platform seeks to eliminate waste at the very source, enabling people to use reusables instead of single-use items and the shift in perspective that comes with that. Furthermore, we organise many community activities to get people more involved with sustainability issues and make a concrete impact together, from tech hackathons to beach clean-ups and campaigns across schools and universities.

Can you tell us more about the mymizu app? Is it available to use within the UK?

mymizu is a community-driven, crowdsourced platform connecting people to 200,000+ water points across Japan and the world where they can refill their reusable bottles instead of buying single-use bottles. We keep people hydrated, without the plastic waste!
Since launching in 2019, it has been used by 250,000+ people across 50 countries and saved millions of plastic bottles from waste. Furthermore, we have built a network of 2,400 stores - mainly in Japan, but also Singapore and other Asian nations - that provide free water refills.

Our approach is to leverage the power of community and technology to co-create an alternative to single-use. Whilst we have limited power as individuals, if we come together as a collective we can literally create a new social infrastructure.

And with a strong belief in the power of partnerships, we collaborate with diverse stakeholders including schools, universities, companies and governments, co-organising campaigns and initiatives that reach hundreds of thousands of people and raise awareness of the environmental crisis.

We know it’s also important to know that our actions are contributing to meaningful impact, so we’ve made it possible to measure impact metrics like the number of plastic bottles you have saved from going to waste, the amount of CO2 emissions and money you have saved by refilling your bottle, and how much water you are drinking via the app.
Our unique approach, blending technology, storytelling and community has been widely recognised; mymizu is a winner of Japan’s prestigious ‘Minister of Environment Award’ and has been featured by the likes of CNN, NHK and Netflix as an innovative environmental solution.

What has been one of your favourite parts of creating and being a part of mymizu?

One of our favourite parts of building mymizu has been seeing how people across Japan embrace and help drive our movement forward. For example, several groups of school children in towns across Japan have self-organised campaigns to persuade local businesses to join the mymizu network. We’ve even had people making their own mymizu banners, posters and events to promote the cause! Additionally, we have over 10,000 organic posts on social media where people have created their own graphics, videos and content helping to promote mymizu and our mission - some of which are extremely creative!

Thank you for talking with us!

You can find out more information about mymizu at the links below!
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mymizu.co/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mymizu.co

Twitter: https://twitter.com/mymizuco

Threads: https://www.threads.net/@mymizu.co

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/company/mymizu



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