24-25 Jul 2024

The O Initiative: reducing plastic bottle waste by 1Mil

Nov 8, 2017

Would you drink from a public fountain? It seems most people would rather spend $4 on a bottle of spring water than drink from a community water bubbler due to concerns around health and safety.

“By 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans.” – United Nations

New startup the O initiative believes that through art and community engagement drinking tap water in public spaces can be a positive experience, and that by reducing the need to drink bottled water we can reduce the one million disposable plastic bottles that end up in landfill and our oceans in Australia daily.

The concept brings corporate partners, artists, and the local community together to create an individualised sculpture that functions as a filtered water refill station. “Fountains have the capacity to bind people” states Gretha, founder of the O initiative. “It serves a focal point in public spaces and can create a sense of community; from basic watering holes to Renaissance city fountains, right through to modern day water coolers, water has always been an integral part of the meeting space. A far cry from the traditional, sterile, uninviting metal drinking fountains, O fountains make drinking tap water in a public space a positive and engaging experience.”

An innovative “Three P” strategy brings the project to life, incorporating private and public sectors as well as people, being local communities. Private companies can boost their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) credentials by providing funding for a fountain and the public sector, namely local government, cover installation and maintenance costs. Whilst the private and public sectors help facilitate the project, the main objective of The O Initiative is about empowering people to take action. People from the local area have the opportunity to apply for a fountain to be installed in one of their public spaces. Once approved, funds are raised to commission an artist to work with citizens to turn the blank canvas into a work of art representative of their values.

“Our vision is for the O Initiative to grow into a global movement” says Gretha. “Rather than relying on government to ‘fix’ our problems, citizens can take action themselves. This not only inspires positive change, but also creates a sense of ownership for all involved, bringing people together to work for common cause.”

Alma Park in St Kilda is host to the very first fountain, home of the popular Hank Marvin market. Zip Water has funded the beautiful foundation piece, and the City of Port Phillip installed the O fountain. Through an oversubscribed crowdfunding campaign the people of the City of Port Phillip raised the artist commission. Each co-funder then was given a vote to select their favorite artist.

Late March 2017, on a sunny Saturday local artist Georgie Faircloth turned the blank sculpture into an artwork that represents the vibrant, multicultural and dog loving Alma Park community. Creating the piece onsite allowed provided a great platform for interaction between user and artist.

About the O fountain:
The glass reinforced concrete sculpture is manufactured in regional Victoria and can either be painted onto directly, or wrapped in pre-made design as shown. If you would like to see one of these beautiful water sculptures in your community, you can contact the O Initiative directly.
About the founder:
In 2004, Gretha Oost, founder of the O Initiative moved to Australia. What she was not expecting was to be plunged into one of the worst droughts in Australian history since European settlement. Gretha decided to take action, designing an electronic shower timer which was picked up by the Accor hotel chain, as well a design award winning French Press water filter bottle called 321 Water (which incidentally features in the Hunger Games, 2012). Gretha’s latest project sets to change the way Australians think about water fountains while reducing the need to purchase plastic water bottles.


The Australasian Waste & Recycling Expo (AWRE) returns to Sydney 29 – 30 August, 2018. Registration is free to all waste and recycling professionals, subscribe here to find out when registrations open.


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