REfill Wisconsin

refill_logo” I pledge to rethink my drink
hot or cold
by choosing to refill
a reusable container

People who take the pledge get a snazzy vinyl decal, just like the one above, to put on their thermos, bottle, or whatever their preferred refillable container is, and declare their environmental commitment to the world! Come to a meeting or send us an email to get your very own!


The REfill Wisconsin Campaign is a collaboration between REthink, We Conserve, the Wisconsin Union, UW Housing Dining Services, Just Coffee, and many of Madison’s independent coffee shops.

Formed to encourage members of our community to carry and use a refillable bottle, mug, or thermos instead of using disposable cups

~ Disposable cups consume resources during their manufacture, contribute to green house gas emissions during their transport, and then take up valuable landfill space after being used only once. While it also takes resources to manufacture sturdier refillable containers, the net environmental savings add up quickly compared to throwing away a paper cup every time you buy a coffee or tea.

The following fine local establishments support the REfill Campaign:

  • The Chocolate Shoppe
  • Espresso Royale
  • Fair Trade Coffee Shop
  • Starbucks (State Street)
  • Einstein’s Bros. Bagels
  • Michaelangelo’s
  • Ancora (Capital)
  • Cafe Soleil
  • Babcock Hall Ice Cream

The REfill Wisconsin Campaign: Goals

Reducing the number of disposable cups they use is a small, concrete decision students can make every day to reduce their personal environmental impact.

Research has shown that the simple act of deliberately making a pro-environmental decision increases a person’s consideration of environmental consequences when making future decisions.

The REfill Campaign at UW Madison has two goals.

  1. The primary goal is to promote pro-environmental attitudes among students, and encourage them to adopt environmental stewardship as a personal value. The campaign aims to have a long term effect on students who participate, such that it increases their consideration of the environmental impact of their day to day choices.
  2.  The secondary goal is to reduce the number of disposable cups, as well as other types of food packaging waste, that the University pays to remove and ship to the landfill annually.

While the secondary goal is more immediately realizable, the long-term value of achieving the primary goal is potentially much greater. As such the following strategies are intended to maximize success in the primary goal, with success in the secondary goal occurring as a natural consequence.

The REfill Wisconsin Campaign: Strategies

  • Obtain a commitment from people to participate in the campaign, and to publicly show their support for it

REthink volunteers distribute decals, explain the campaign to people, and ask them to support it by putting the sticker on their thermos. Importantly the stickers are only given when a commitment is obtained. Research has shown that making such a commitment increases compliance, compared to when people are presented with information but are not asked to make a commitment.

  • Establish norms to get people in the habit of bringing reusable cups

Having campaign participants publicly display a sign of their commitment (the sticker) has the added benefit of providing publicity for the campaign. When students see that environmental stewardship is an important value of other students, it increases its importance for them and makes them more likely to adopt it as a value of their own. The effect on undergraduates would be even stronger coming from instructors and TAs, and so the campaign should make recruiting members from this population a priority.

Since, we cannot realistically expect campaign participants to explain to their peers what the sticker means.This strategy will only be successful in ways such as signage– making the campaign and its message widely visible.

  • Use existing group affiliations to increase personal identification with the campaign

The primary goal of the campaign is to encourage students to adopt environmental stewardship as a personal value. While people’s values are difficult to change, one effective way to do so is to take advantage of their existing group affiliations. The campaign will approach student groups and ask for their endorsement of the campaign. A REthink Wisconsin volunteer will visit the group’s meeting, explain the campaign, ask for an endorsement, and distribute stickers to students who commit to carry a refillable container. Another option for using existing group affiliations is to make high quality refillable containers available to groups at low cost. Containers will have a logo on either side, one displaying the identity of the group and the other displaying the REfill logo.

  • Reinforce the campaign when you see someone buy a drink

Research demonstrates that visual information is most effective when it is closest in time to the moment of decision. In our situation, this means presenting customers with the REfill message at the coffee counter or the soda fountain. For customers who are already refilling this will reinforce that they are doing the right thing, increasing the likelihood they will continue to refill. For customers who are not currently refilling, research unfortunately suggests that a sign by itself is unlikely to change their behavior. However for these people the signs will carry out the crucial function of connecting the campaign logo to the goals behind it, allowing our other strategies of obtaining commitment and establishing norms to succeed.

  • Appeal to both environmental and financial consequences

Previous research has repeatedly demonstrated that avoiding financial loss is a strong motivator of behavior. The same dollar amount has a much larger effect  when framed as a loss than a savings. A survey carried out at the Wisconsin Union this past summer confirmed that a sizable minority of UW-Madison community members were motivated to carry their own refillable container more strongly by financial reasons than by environmental reasons. To make the strongest appeal to as wide an audience as possible, the campaign’s message and signage should include both environmental arguments and arguments about the financial waste of not taking advantage of the REfill Discount.

REfill Research by fellow REthinkers

1. REfill Barriers Survey

Conducted at the Memorial Union on 6/30/2009 by Mike Amato, Jamie Trembula, and Rebekah Foelker. The goal was to identify the perceived benefits that motivate people to carry a refillable container, as well as the perceived barriers that prevent people from doing it all the time.

 — The results were very encouraging. They suggest that the majority of UW community members already have some experience refilling, which means we are not faced with the difficult task of trying to convince people to engage in a completely new behavior. Instead we are faced with the simpler task of encouraging people to more consistently engage in a behavior they already see value in.

2. Memorial Union cup usage data

Compiled by Mike Amato and Amy Soyck. Given the Wisconsin Union’s unique position in campus food service, we looked at current usage at Lakefront on Langdon and The Rathskeller in order to set goals and evaluate progress for the program. We found that currently 12% of Rathskeller customers who buy coffee bring their own container. We’ll continue working with the Union to gather data as we move towards setting concrete goals for increased refilling in 2010.

REfill Events

1. Mugs on the Mall

Each semester REthink hosts Mugs on the Mall, promoting the use of reusable coffee cups. During the event free coffee and hot chocolate are provided to anyone with a reusable mug. With an enthusiastic table, and cheering for participants, we are working to further create a social change.