• (Photo: Fill it Forward)

In 2020, one in five First Nations communities in Canada are under a boil water advisory. In Ontario, two in five First Nations communities don’t have safe drinking water. 

Fill it Forward — a company that produces refillable water bottles — is working to change those statistics with a reusable plastic bottle, a barcode and a smartphone app. 

Founder and CEO Matt Wittek launched the product line in 2012, hoping to inspire people to start small on their sustainable journeys — just by reusing a bottle.

“Reuse is just the easiest thing you can do to help the planet,” says Wittek. “People become more sustainable over time … [a bottle] is a great start to your journey.”

The Fill it Forward water bottle has a barcode the user scans on each refill. Each scan helps fund one of the organization’s charitable partners that address water issues around the world, including Ontario, Arizona and Ethiopia. 

“Part of the intention is to raise awareness that the water issue is global,” says Wittek, adding that people are “surprised” to find out there are water shortages close to home. 

Early on, Fill it Forward recognized that technology could play a huge role in the average user’s sustainability goals. 

“In really simple terms, I’m able to give clean water every time I can take a drink for myself,” says Wittek. This continuous giving model is how Fill it Forward decided to help contribute to solving the world’s water crises — rather than go somewhere and build a well themselves, Wittek says they stuck to what they knew how to do, instead of recreating programs that already exist. 

“We could go build a well, but what happens when we leave? It’s not our area of expertise, so we partnered with charities who had that expertise,” says Wittek. These charities include Water First, which helps address local water challenges in Indigenous communities through education, training and meaningful collaboration.

Thanks to the barcodes on the bottles and the accompanying Fill it Forward app, the organization has “verified reuses” and can fairly accurately track the impact their bottles are making. 

“We just hit this milestone of five million single use items saved,” says Wittek. The data shows Fill it Forward has saved almost 20,000 pounds of ocean pollution plastic, eliminated two million pounds of emissions and saved more than 175,000 pounds of waste from hitting landfills. 

While Wittek says they did pause and celebrate five million, mostly all they can see is “how much is yet to be done.”

“This need is global. There’s water-related issues all around the world,” says Wittek. “I’ve washed my hands so many times in the last 10 months … but many places around the world, they don’t have that basic necessity available to them to be able to wash their hands.”

And Fill it Forward’s work isn’t done — in 2021, they plan to move beyond drinkware to divert more plastics from landfills around the world. But for now:“You don’t need to continue to buy products to support these initiatives,” says Wittek about their partner charities. “You simply scan the tag.”

See how you can support Fill it Forward and their partner charities at fillitforward.com