UI Students and Faculty Secure Grant to Launch Sustainable Detergent Refill Stations

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March 25, 2024
Figure 1. Back left to right: Lucas Johnson, Ishan Dhanani, Xavier Uhrmacher, Joseph Valley; bottom left to right: Leslie Flynn,

Story: Jackson Fischer

A team of University of Iowa students and faculty has been awarded a $10,000 grant to advance their collaboration on a project aimed at introducing liquid detergent refill stations to grocery stores. 

Americans discard 44 million tons of plastic annually, impacting landfills, oceans, and natural habitats, posing environmental and health risks. 

RefillerMe, a company conceptualized by seven students during the University of Iowa’s Climate Change and Health Solutions Challenge, seeks to expand liquid detergent refill stations to chain grocery stores, targeting the average supermarket consumer. 

Initially, the team conducted 39 interviews to gauge potential customers' perspectives on recycling and reducing plastic waste. 

They devised a machine allowing customers to insert a custom aluminum bottle for filling with laundry detergent. The process involves the machine raising the bottle, removing the lid, and presenting a touch screen interface for selecting detergent brand and type. After filling, the machine returns the bottle to the customer with a calculated price, encouraging reuse by allowing customers to refill the same bottle. 

The team that created the company comprises students and faculty skilled in engineering, computer science, entrepreneurship, and business, including Ishan Dhanani, Kailey Elliott, Lucas Johnson, EmmaJean Roling, Xavier Uhrmacher, Joseph Valley, and Leslie Flynn, a clinical associate professor at the Jacobson Institute for Youth Entrepreneurship. 

Moving forward, RefillerMe’s team plans to continue seeking feedback from individuals on the machine and bottle prototype, conduct alpha testing, and pursue intellectual property rights. Additionally, the team intends to participate in three more entrepreneurship competitions at the University of Iowa and beyond. 

This Climate Change and Health Solutions Challenge is supported by the Burroughs Welcome Fund, a generous gift from Don Diebel, MD, PhD, and Cindy Diebel, made through the University of Iowa Center for Advancement, as well as funding from the Iowa JPEC, the University of Iowa Office of the Vice President for Research, and the Iowa Center for Research by Undergraduates.