UW-FDL students follow MPTC in campaign to eliminate plastic bottles

May 9, 2014

From fdlreporter.com: “UW-FDL students launch campaign to eliminate plastic bottles” — By Sharon Roznik – A crowd-sourcing campaign at University of Wisconsin-Fond du Lac is aimed at helping the environment by cutting down on the use of plastic water bottles.

Students in Mike Winkler’s introduction to business class are pitching a campaign on the website Indiegogo to raise almost $1,000 for a water refill station to be installed in the university’s commons.

“This one water station has the potential to eliminate the use of up to 19,200 plastic water bottles a year,” Winkler said.

Indiegogo is a crowdfunding platform for nonprofits where people who want to raise money can create fundraising campaigns to tell their story, get the word out and find out what people are passionate about.

Through May 2, $211 has been raised for the project. Winkler says students need to raise a good portion of their goal in order to continue the campaign into next year. The long-range plan is to eventually replace all of the water fountains on campus — one in each building for a total of five — with refill stations.

Installation costs will be covered by facility staff or raised in a subsequent campaign. Donors of $50 or more will receive a reusable water bottle.

“If each person used one of these it would eliminate 800 bottles all by itself, so think about the power of these contributions,” Winkler said.

Eco-friendly

The idea came about when students were discussing bottled water and learned it is a product of the soda industry. Water bottles create about 55 billion waste bottles globally each year and class members decided they wanted to do something about it.

They also learned about gyre — plastic islands floating in the oceans that do not break down.

The Elkay Water Filling Station is three times faster than a standard drinking fountain, making it more convenient to fill up in between classes, said business student Brittany Riederer.

A little screen in the top corner of the machine tells users how many plastic water bottles have been saved by using the filling station. And the station will be mapped on wetap.org, a website and app that encourages awareness, access and use of public drinking fountains — reducing dependence on single-use plastic.

“The coolest part of all, I think, is that an electronic sensor provides a touchless, sanitary option,” Riederer said. “All you have to do is set your water bottle under the spout and it gives you chilled purified water.”

She said a college in Pennsylvania has installed 49 of the filling stations and more than 1.4 million bottles have been refilled so far.

Moraine Park Technical College already has water filling stations at the school, funded through student groups, Winkler said.

Changing mindsets

UW-Fond du Lac Dean and Chief Executive Officer John Short said the unique project is an example of how businesses can “create” demand, and how those discussions led to student involvement.

“Whether they will become a teacher, an accountant, a doctor or a scientist, our students need to understand how to creatively apply knowledge,” Short said. “They need to become entrepreneurs in the broadest sense. They need to look at ideas from new perspectives, they need to become comfortable with interdisciplinary thinking, and they need to become active citizens and change agents in their communities.”

Winkler says the project has taught his students a new entrepreneurial technique and crowdsource funding may become part of the curriculum in the future.

“This is all about change. People are likely to throw a bottle away and buy a bottle rather than refill one,” he said. “By changing the mindset, this is the first step to becoming a plastic free campus, and someday maybe the world.”

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