Promoting sustainability one refill at a time

Program encourages use of refillable bottles, benefit from campus store discounts

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Marsha Garcia, Alyssa Galuska and Olavo Goncalves
From right, Marsha Garcia, campus sustainability officer, Alyssa Galuska, a bookstore clerk specializing in marketing and special events, and Olavo Goncalves, assistant director of the Campus Store, show off the water bottles with scanners that not only help reduce the amount of waste from plastic bottles, but also support giving clean drinking water to those in need. (URI Photo/Michael Salerno)

KINGSTON, R.I.–December 21, 2018– Students at the University of Rhode Island now have an extra incentive to use refillable bottles and keep plastic disposable bottles out of landfills. A new refill tracking system allows users to save 10 percent on purchases at campus stores, as well as provide clean water to those in need.

Through the University’s partnership with Cupanion, the reusable bottle brand that hosts the app and Fill It Forward program, users are provided with special stickers to attach to their refillable bottles. When users refill their containers, the sticker records the action and the app sends the transaction to their smartphone. Each time a sticker is scanned, points toward a discount at the campus store are earned. Additionally, Cupanion donates one cup of clean water to a person in need for every scan through the Fill it Forward program.

“Cupanion reached out to me and described a great program that other universities are using to help discourage the use of disposable bottles,” said Marsha Garcia, campus sustainability officer. “We found the program to be a great fit because we can manage the program online. We can see how many bottles have been diverted from landfills, how much we’ve saved in disposal costs, and how much water the University is helping to give to communities in need.”

Through the program’s online administrator dashboard, Garcia can see that the program is popular among the campus community. Because of a geo-locator associated with the app, the scanning only works while on campus. Since April, there have been nearly 4,600 total scans at URI. That number, she said, is equal to the number of disposable bottles the campus has diverted from landfills.

At about 15 cents per bottle, the program has saved the University $685 since its launch. URI averages 19 scans per day and about 580 scans per month. Users earn 10 points with each scan. When one thousand points is reached, the user earns a 10 percent discount at the campus store. Cupanion has its own rewards system through which users can earn gift cards to places like Starbucks and Target.

“We’re more than happy to partner with the Office of Sustainability on this initiative,” said Alyssa Galuska, a bookstore clerk specializing in marketing and special events. She said that so far, seven people have redeemed their 10 percent off coupons. Compared to programs at other universities, she said, this is a pretty good result.

Olavo Goncalves, assistant director of the Campus Store, said that working with the Office of Sustainability and Cupanion is one of the many ways the store is helping to promote environmentally friendly practices.

“We’ve moved from plastic bags to paper, and made sure our clothing products are sustainably sourced,” Goncalves said. “The app is just another way to get the word out.”

Goncalves and Galuska plan to work with Garcia and the Office of Sustainability to get more campus community members involved with the program.

“We’re looking at opportunities to do more back-to-school promotions and incentivize students to download the app,” Galuska said. “From what I’ve heard, the feedback is positive. Students recognize that the purpose is important, and they’re also happy to get something back.”

Cameron Poe, a junior political science and public relations major from North Kingstown, participates in the program and is glad to see it as a fixture on the URI campus.

“I think it’s a great initiative,” Poe said. “I like it because it is one of the many ways that URI is fulfilling their mission of becoming an eco-friendly campus.”

Goncalves agrees and said he hopes that more campus members will start using the program. “It’s another way for us to think big, not just at URI but beyond our campus. This is an area that’s drawing attention from all around, and we’re glad to do our part to be sustainable.”