RADFORD — Radford University hopes a new initiative will reduce a sea of single-use plastic bottles from flooding its campus.
Sustainability Manager Josh Nease said that the university will be using Fill It Forward, an app by Cupanion, that allows students to scan a bar code on their reusable bottles every time they fill up.
Not only do users garner points that can lead to small prizes, each scan contributes two cents to clean water projects around the world. Students can scan their bottles as often as every 15 minutes.
When students return to campus in the fall, they can download the app at Google Play or the App Store and acquire a bar code sticker for their refillable water bottles. Stickers will be available through the Radford University Sustainability Office and at events such as the annual club fair and information tables around campus. Various refilling stations are available in most buildings on campus.
Nease said that he first heard about charity-based initiative at a sustainability conference a few years ago where attendees were given scannable coffee mugs. He said being able to see at the end of the weekend how many single-use cups were being kept from going to the landfill — and the impact it had on the environmental footprint — was eye opening.
The university purchased 1,000 bar codes to start its initiative and both student and faculty will be encouraged to participate, Nease said. The university has a total enrollment of just over 9,300. The total cost to join was $2,245 (each sticker cost $1.25 apiece) with an annual membership fee of $995. For comparison, individual stickers cost $4.95 on the website.
Students and faculty will not be asked to pay to participate.
If the program is a success, Nease said he believes the school will invest more funds into the program next year. The cost pales in comparison to the good that can come from the program, he said.
Nease said that recycling is not a solution to the world’s waste problems as countries like China that used to buy up much of the world’s recyclables have stopped due to market over-saturation.
On its website, Cupanion lists statistics regarding the scarcity of clean water in certain parts of the world. For example: Every day women and girls spend 200 million hours collecting water; water and sanitation-related diseases kill nearly 1 million people annually; and globally 844 million people (1 in 9) lack access to safe water.
Cupanion was founded in 2009 and launched the first version of the app in 2015, but in 2018 it was re-branded under the Fill it Forward initiative, according to Cupanion officials. Overall, the company has raised enough for nearly 4,000,000 cups of drinking water through the new campaign, according to its website.
Radford is the fourth school in the state to participate, according to a spokesperson from Cupanion. Others include the University of Virginia, James Madison and the Alexandria campus of Northern Virginia Community College.
UVA’s sustainability coordinator, Brooke Kinsey, said that UVA Dining implemented the program in April 2017. Since then, 2,000 students have installed the app and the school has kept 40,501 disposable bottles from the landfill.
As Nease was demonstrating how the program will work at RU, senior Veronica Hyman, of Richmond, signed up. She said that she and her brother care about sustainability and she tries to reuse product and recycle whenever possible. Hyman said the app immediately caught her attention.
“I couldn’t care less about the prizes,” she said. “I want people everywhere to have access to clean water and this seems like an easy way to help. I already use reusable bottles anyway, so it’s a no-brainer.”