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Courtney Waterbury, a UK graduate student, holds a refillable water bottle with a Fill it Forward sticker on the side of it. Photo by Emily Girard

In the wake of UK football’s loss to Florida, another competition against the Gators has emerged on campus.

The Fill it Forward program, sponsored by UK Dining and UK Sustainability, raises money for a clean water pump in Madagascar through the use of reusable water bottles. Though the program has been present on campus, graduate student Courtney Waterbury has drawn student interest by turning the program into a race against the University of Florida to see which school accumulates the most refills.

“Originally, when I thought of a competition, I envisioned doing it between departments here at UK, but it didn’t seem like we would be able to do that with the way the [Fill it Forward] app works,” said Waterbury. “I thought that we could [compete] with another SEC school, since athletics is a big draw here. I found out that Florida had this program there, and we got into contact with them and they agreed.”

Students can purchase Fill it Forward stickers at any UK Dining locations. After downloading the Fill it Forward app, students create an account and scan their sticker whenever they fill their water bottle. With each scan, students not only contribute to the Madagascar project, but they also earn points toward personal rewards.

“There’s a lot of incentive for [participation], but I...see more of a trend among people now trying to make better choices for the planet,” said Waterbury. “It’s more prevalent in the news that there’s a need to not buy plastic water bottles, and if you have [a reusable bottle], it saves you money.”

Waterbury said students are also helping a community in need.

“You’re helping a community that doesn’t have resources, so it’s nice to feel like you helped in some way, even if you don’t have money to give,” she said. “I feel like maybe some people aren’t aware about things that they can do...but maybe they just don’t know where to turn.”

Regardless of the reason, the program has had rapid success. Though the initial competition was intended to last until November 15, UK reached its goal of 423 scans in six days. The project will continue to be on campus after November 15, and the competition will continue in a race to complete two fundraisers before UF completed its first.

“We didn’t think we would get so much participation from the students here,” said Waterbury. “I would love to help expand it to more schools or more participation at a different level.”

“I’m shocked,” said UK Dining staff member Seth Lightfoot. “I’ve got kids running up [to me] saying, ‘Can I get a sticker?’ Maybe they’re trying to beat Florida after the game; I don’t know what it is, but it’s growing faster than they thought it would.”

"The water pump for the village was a really good reason to do it," said freshman Madison Hodges on why she decided to participate. "If I’m already refilling my water bottle, I might as well help.”