It’s rare today to see a drinking fountain without a bottle filling station. As demand for environmentally friendly and sustainable products increases, and concerns over water quality grow, these products are becoming increasingly popular in both indoor and outdoor applications.
“This demand has slowly been building since the early 2000s,” explains Justin Dunn, senior field marketing specialist, Haws Corp. “Only about 10 years ago, you’d find maybe one bottle filler on a project if there was one at all. Now it’s hard to find a project that doesn’t include a bottle filler. The demand is being driven by a preference for convenience, filtered water and an operation style that is more often than not, touchless.”
The heightened focus on hygiene following the COVID-19 pandemic has consumers looking for convenient access to sanitary filtered drinking water options, especially in public areas such as airports and hotels, notes Jeff Schoon, executive vice president of Zurn Elkay Water Solutions.
“Additionally, sustainability is top of mind for consumers — like reducing single-use plastics — resulting in pressure in spaces like airports, hotels and education facilities. Bottle filling stations feature hygienic innovations such as touchless and hands-free features, and reduce single-use plastic bottled water, resulting in the rise of installation of these types of units in public spaces.”
Schoon adds that consumers are placing more importance on their overall wellness — including proper hydration and access to clean water. “We’re especially seeing heightened attention on water quality in schools across the country as more lead testing and regulations begin to make headway in impacted states. This has caused an overall increase in demand for products like bottle filling stations which help expand access to cleaner water and promote healthier hydration through filtered drinking water.”
According to Stephanie Guttas, product manager for OASIS International, one prominent demand drive is corporate sustainability initiatives that mandate the removal or reduction of single-use plastic bottles.
“Consumer awareness around sustainability can create pull-through demand, and that awareness continues to grow,” she explains. “Additionally, consumers continue to recognize the role hydration plays in a healthier lifestyle. While bottle fillers were once considered a luxury, they have shifted to an ‘expected’ amenity in many workplaces and public spaces.
“The wave of urbanization, aging infrastructure and evolving technology can all contribute to the presence of contaminants in water supplies,” Guttas adds. “When equipped with UV and other filtration systems, bottle fillers are convenient and accessible ways to help deliver improved drinking water. Furthermore, we’ve seen that growth in new construction and stricter government regulations often can lead to increased water testing, and awareness is raised when contaminants are detected. As a result, consumers are on notice and are seeking solutions that deliver safer water.”
Public schools, hospitals and public transportation, like airports, are seeing some of the highest demand for inclusion of a bottle fillers, according to Dunn.
“Public health and safety has evolved rapidly in the last several years, with the pandemic changing the way we think about navigating these spaces safely,” he says. “We walked away with a higher focus on touchless technology, which is typically included with bottle fillers either standard or as an option. Spaces like schools and airports have a high degree of foot traffic, so it’s important for us to continue to utilize touchless and anti-microbial surfaces to prevent the spread of viruses and for us to be able to fill up and go quickly.”
“Upticks in private funding and private-public partnerships in the education sector are expected to supplement state and municipal budgets,” she explains. “Demand for air travel is predicted to stay strong in the near future, which should, in theory, create more airport construction projects as they expand and modernize. Funding for these projects through federal programs will likely continue to be boosted by private funding in this sector as well.”
Schoon agrees, saying that Zurn Elkay is also seeing an increased demand for cleaner, filtered water in schools as they focus on reducing the amount of lead found in facility drinking water.
“As most schools have already returned to in-person learning since the pandemic, it puts a spotlight on the current offerings these facilities are operating to ensure they are delivering fresh, filtered water to students and staff daily,” he says. “We know that no amount of lead in water is safe, so we’ve also seen a spike in demand for filtration to ensure machines are up-to-date and performing at the best quality possible. Additionally, we don’t see the demand for sanitation features, such as touchless and hands-free innovations declining anytime soon as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hygiene and wellness are top of mind for consumers and determine how they interact with public spaces and those are key factors that indicate these offerings will be important for the long term.”
Over the last few years, despite testing, policy changes and water infrastructure upgrades, many children continue to be exposed to lead during the school day, Schoon points out. Lead is dangerous because it cannot be seen, tasted or smelled in water, and it is a neurotoxin that can limit brain development and put children at risk.
Because of this, Zurn Elkay is on a mission to expand adequate access to safer, filtered drinking water across the country. Most recently, the company partnered with Equitas Academy, part of the Los Angeles Unified School District, as it was faced with a dire need to get clean water to students due to a lack of infrastructure upgrades.
“Elkay stepped in to donate $10,000 worth of ezH2O Bottle Filling Stations and installations for students and staff to be able to safely access clean drinking water daily,” Schoon says. “This donation has allowed the schools to save $30,000 annually on what was originally spent for the Equitas Academy staff coordinating weekly deliveries of 5-gallon water jugs.”
Dunn notes that many across the U.S. and the world have begun to replace existing drinking fountains with bottle fillers rather than retrofit the existing equipment to include a bottle filler.
“The recent global pandemic caused many to start thinking differently about public accommodations and drinking fountains are one of them,” he says. “Some are replacing their existing equipment with a bottle filler only thinking the fountain is more likely to spread germs and viruses. The two types of equipment both need to be made available, the required drinking fountain and the bottle filler accessory. Public hydration is different for everyone, and we can’t forget our ADA regulations that guide building requirements and the inclusion of drinking fountains.
“The fact is not everyone has a bottle or cup with them to utilize a bottle filler,” Dunn continues. “Removal of drinking fountain equipment can leave many without access to drinking water in public, while it may not be the preference for some, it is a device that excludes no person from its use by any means. Remember to include both types of equipment in your projects, hallways and break rooms to ensure everyone has equal access to public hydration and retrofit when you get the chance. There are so many options now for easy inclusion of a bottle filler in a new building or adding one to existing equipment.”
Schoon explains that now, more than ever, consumers are looking for hygienic solutions and product features, including filtration when it comes to chemicals like lead.
“This shift of focus on health and wellness is driving manufacturers to come up with sanitary and innovative ways to make their products even more health focused,” he says. “We imagine a further focus on hands-free and touchless options to create cleaner and healthier environments, especially in public and commercial spaces, like airports and schools. We’ve also seen government funding like ESSER, a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing more opportunities for schools and communities to access improvements to their infrastructure, which allows these institutions to add things like bottle filling stations.
“Additionally, sustainable and eco-friendly options are here to stay,” he adds. “Given the environmentally friendly benefits of reducing waste with single-use bottles, we’re likely to see the popularity of bottle filling stations increase as consumers are shifting towards using reusable bottles.”
Guttas points to the increasing importance on aesthetics as a driver in purchasing decisions.
“Bottle fillers have become more prevalent, and customers are looking for more modern and sleek designs that blend naturally into upscale, contemporary environments,” she says. “Also, the demand for a more hygienic experience with bottle filling stations has become more pronounced as more users interact with these products daily.”
According to Dunn, bottle fillers will continue to become more prevalent on all types of projects.
“They will continue to grow in popularity and will be the preference for public hydration when one is available and has the means to utilize one,” he says. “The means being a bottle or cup which reminds us why the drinking fountain will remain an important resource alongside bottle fillers for public health and hydration while this category grows. I think you can expect to see continued development for bottle filler products including faster fill times, touchless activation innovations and more frequent inclusion of filtration.”
Schoon says that based on trends and ongoing legislation being passed, the rise in demand for bottle filling stations is projected to increase.
“Over the next three to five years, sanitary and eco-friendly bottle filling station options will be expected in commercial spaces, offices, public areas and especially in schools,” he says. “As more education institutions install units over the next couple years, filtration will be a big area for growth as we watch buildings make improvements and upgrades to their current systems.”
Additionally, the demand for water and the stress on the water supply shows no signs of abating, Guttas notes. “Thankfully, we are all becoming better stewards of our environment. We know bottle fillers can help mitigate some of these environmental threats in several ways, and we expect to see this category grow as we evolve our products to support that goal better. Recent global events have accelerated shifts in certain consumer behaviors impacting our industry, and Oasis realizes we must remain intently focused on listening to the voice of our customers and responding with continuous improvements.”
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