The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

UI student company aims to bring soap refill stations to campus

The team is working to develop its company and project as they try to make detergent and soap refill stations available on campus.
Hali Tauxe/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK
Jars of laundry detergent pods await customers in the refill bar at Rooftop Fruit in Indianapolis Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2023. The refill bar reduces waste by encouraging shoppers to bring their own reusable containers for the bulk bath and cleaning products.

To make the University of Iowa campus more eco-friendly, seven students have assembled a team to launch detergent and soap refill stations in UI buildings.

The team, dubbed RefillerMe, was awarded a $10,000 grant from a pitch competition on Feb. 26 at the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center and plans to compete in several other pitch contests in the coming weeks.

Second-year UI environmental science major Emmajean Roling has spearheaded the project since she decided to expand her goals to reduce plastic waste she had at home. Roling is also the owner of the pop-up shop Generations Refillery in her mom’s co-op, which operates in her hometown of Cedar Falls, Iowa.

“It means a lot that there are people out there who care about what we’re trying to do,” Roling said. “To see that there are people at the university who care and who have been working in fields for many years support our idea is really powerful.”

Roling wanted to take an interdisciplinary approach to reduce the plastic waste generated by constantly buying disposable containers, so she asked her peers from all different areas of study to help her with her project.

The group is composed of UI industrial engineering major Kailey Elliott, electrical engineering major Xavier Uhrmacher, environmental engineering major Joseph Valley, business management major Lucas Johnson, computer science major Ishan Dhanani, and UI associate professor Leslie Flynn.

Johnson has managed the team’s corporate side of the project, which is now officially an LLC. Dhanani and Elliott are working on building the team’s website and purchasing a domain for the company.

Right now, the team is working on a 3D-printed prototype that Elliott designed. Although it is not yet functional, the refill machine looks a lot like a Coca-Cola touch-screen soda fountain. Customers would bring the container they want to refill and select what product they want, such as laundry detergent, shampoo, cleaning products, or hand soap.

Roling said the machine can dispense any non-perishable liquids, and the goal is to eventually have one in all the dorms on campus. The team is also currently working with Hy-Vee to install the machines in grocery stores.

“We’re reducing our carbon footprint and our plastic consumption,” Roling said “You don’t realize how often you have to buy a new bottle, but when you start to refill, you realize how many less bottles you produce.”

Dhanani said if the refiller machines become available, students will also save money when purchasing new cleaning or hygiene products. The cost for students to use the machines is not yet known.

“It should be cheaper than your normal detergent,” he said. “We’re all undergraduate students. We know money’s always tight, so if you can save a couple of cents here and there, and it saves up to five or 10 dollars over the semester.”

Flynn said she’s seen tremendous growth within the team as they’ve learned to work together and use their different strengths to achieve success.

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“You realize to actually make something happen and to actually commercialize a product, you need a strong team,” she said. “It would be very difficult to do anything by yourself, so I think they’re all counting on each other.”

Flynn urged any students with a business idea to get to work now. She said there’s no need to wait until graduation or other times in the future, and the RefillerMe team is a great example of what students can do while they’re still in school.

“I think the best part is when I see students realize that they can start a business now,” Flynn said. “Realizing they have the skills and the resources to make this happen as young adults is really fun for me to see and part of the big joy of my job.”


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About the Contributor
Grace Olson
Grace Olson, News Reporter
Grace Olson is a first-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Journalism and Mass Communications. She's a news reporter for The DI, reporting primarily on local government. She is from Denver, Colorado and worked on the pirnt publication from her high school prior to her work in college.