The Collegian
Thursday, November 30, 2023

Sustainable Solutions Challenge winners suggest creating a UR ‘Fill It Forward’ program

<p>The Heilman Dining Center</p>

The Heilman Dining Center

The winning team of the Sustainable Solutions Challenge proposed implementing a program at the University of Richmond that encourages the use of reusable bottles through the Fill It Forward app, which monitors bottle reuse, rising senior Rachel Perry said. 

Perry is a member of the winning team, consisting of three other members: UR '20 graduate Ana Salitan, UR '20 graduate Emily George and rising senior Jack Bergstrom. 

The Sustainable Solutions Challenge team also suggested implementing two other solutions to address the problem of single-use plastic bottle consumption on campus, George said. The team wants to install Dasani Pure Fill Stations around campus and decrease plastic water bottle shelf space in ETC, she said. 

It is still uncertain if the winning team’s three-part proposal will be implemented in the fall by UR administration and retail services. The University of Richmond Dining Services is extremely busy preparing for the fall, Terry Baker executive director of dining services said. However, dining services is looking into it, and there will be more information in a few weeks regarding the implementation, she said. 

The Sustainable Solutions Challenge asked students to address a sustainable issue on campus, with this year’s topic being the problem of single-use plastic bottle consumption, according to the challenge guidelines. This was the first year the challenge occurred, and it will occur annually with a new sustainable issue to address each year.  The challenge’s final presentations occurred via Zoom on April 15, and team members found out they won in the afternoon of April 16, George said. 

The team members were required to participate in the challenge as a part of assistant professor of management Trey Sutton’s environmental management class, Salitan said. 

Fill It Forward is an Apple and Android accessible app that tracks and monitors a person’s reusable bottle use and contributes to a charitable cause each time a person uses their reusable bottle, Perry said. The app tracks bottle reuse through a tag that people must scan each time they fill up their reusable bottle, according to the Fill It Forward webpage. When the tag is scanned, the app then gives to the app's charitable water sanitation project partners, such as the non-profit WaterAid, according to Fill It Forward’s partnership webpage

The app allows for a person to give back to communities around the world, by simply filling up a reusable bottle, Perry said. Fill It Forward makes giving water as easy as drinking water, Perry said. 

The app allows for an organization to create a custom program to help promote community environmental awareness, she said. Many universities, such as University of Virginia and James Madison University, already have custom Fill It Forward programs, according to their Facebook pages. It would cost around $4,200 for UR to create a custom program, she said. 

UR students would receive a dishwasher-safe tag that can be stuck onto their reusable bottles free of charge from the Office of Sustainability, Perry said. Students can then download the Fill It Forward app and make an account, she said. 

Each time students refill their reusable bottles, they can scan their tag on the Fill It Forward app on their phones, she said. The app monitors a person’s total bottle reuse, in addition to the ways a person's bottle reuse helps the environment aside from plastic consumption, she said. 

“You can keep track individually [of] how much emissions you saved, how much ocean plastic is prevented and how much energy you helped save by not buying a single-use plastic bottle,” Perry said. 

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The program would also be able to track bottle reuse and environmental impact of the UR community as a whole, Perry said. When students scan their personal tag on the app, the tag would link to both a personal account and the UR program, Perry said. 

The program would also have a point-based reward system to encourage long-term use of the app, Perry said. For instance, the reward system could be constructed as follows: “If you scan your water bottle ten times and you get like fifty points, you get a free coffee at Lou’s," she said.

The second part of the proposal, implementing Dasani PureFill stations, would provide students with flavored and sparkling water options in addition to flatwater at select locations around campus, such as the Gottwald Center for the Sciences, George said. 

“We are hoping that these [stations] would encourage healthy, hydrated choices, while also encouraging students to use their reusable water bottles,” George said. 

The third proposed solution, to decrease the plastic water bottle shelf space in Everything Convenience, would require increasing the number of PathWater aluminum bottles in ETC, which are recyclable bottles, George said.  

“PathWater will help still bring in some profit because they have a pretty high-profit margin,” George said. 

The team considered two things when they constructed their three-part plan to address plastic bottle consumption, George said. 

“We were trying to find a solution that was cost-effective and convenient,” she said. 

The challenge was a great start to engage students in environmental initiatives on campus, Salitan said.

However, if Salitan had not been required to participate in the challenge as an environmental management student, she would not have known about it, she said. She said that the challenge would be time-consuming for those not required to participate as a part of their course grade.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have the time, even if they wanted to do something and could make a change," Salitan said. "They can’t fit it into their schedule." 

To fix these problems, Salitan thought more classes, including ones outside of the business school, can incorporate the Sustainable Solutions Challenge into their syllabi, she said.

Contact lifestyle writer Caitlin O'Hare at 

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