Industry body Water UK has announced a free water refill scheme that could cut disposable plastic bottle use by millions every year.

The move comes amid growing concerns about the effect of plastic waste on the environment. The new initiative will see all shops, cafés and businesses in large England cities and towns offering customers free water by 2021.

Whitbread, which owns Costa Coffee and Premier Inn, is the first company to have signed up to the scheme and will provide water in all of its branches from March this year.

Refill stations and public water fountains will also appear on a dedicated app and on sign posts within all participating retailers, to encourage more shoppers to use the facilities.

Water UK chief executive Michael Roberts said: “As an industry with a strong focus on the environment we are passionate about tackling the problems caused by plastic bottles, which clog up rivers and drains, and pollute our seas. By refilling water bottles, we can all help turn this harmful tide of plastic waste. This country has some of the best drinking water in the world and we want everyone to benefit from it. This scheme will do that by making it easier for people to refill their bottles wherever they work, rest, shop or play.”

Water companies already taking part in local Refill schemes include Anglian Water in Norwich, Northumbrian Water in Durham, South West Water in Cornwall and Bristol Water in Somerset.