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'Ding' Darling refuge 'kicks' out all plastic bottles with campaign

March 14, 2018
By TIFFANY REPECKI ( , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge has stepped up its Kick the Bottle campaign.

Seven years ago, the refuge initiated the effort to "kick" plastic by stopping the sale of typical water bottles from its Nature Store, removing them from its shelves. Birgie Miller, executive director for the "Ding" Darling Wildlife Society-Friends of the Refuge, said multi-use refillable ones replaced them.

"It was one way to kick the bottle," she said of the refuge's first replacement product.

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The J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge has taken its Kick the Bottle campaign up a notch, eliminating the sale of plastic bottles onsite and replacing them with Just Water. Just Water is made from 82 percent renewable resources and now stocks the Nature Store shelves for $2 a bottle.

"It wasn't a great option, but it was the only option at that point," Miller added.

Free water refilling stations were set up at the refuge for visitors to use.

"We needed something affordable for people," she said.

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"It was still made from plastic, but it was multi-use," Miller added.

Jeanne Walsh, manager of the Nature Store, explained that while the refuge's intentions were great regarding the replacement product, the visitors were not very keen on the multi-use refillables.

"They just didn't want it," she said. "They didn't want to have to fill it up (on purchasing it)."

"They weren't that customer-friendly," Walsh added. "They couldn't really wash them."

Deciding it needed an even better product, the refuge recently switched to JUST Water bottles.

"It's a huge difference," Walsh said on March 9. "We've sold 265 in two and a half weeks."

She estimated that the store would have sold five or six of the others in same period.

"We have a lot of active fit people who come here," Walsh said of the numerous bicyclists, runners and walkers who utilize the refuge. "I think they're really happy to have cold water that's ready to go."

JUST Water is a product envisioned by an eco-conscious group, including actor Will Smith.

It is made of 82 percent renewable resources, primarily paperboard sourced from forests where new trees replace harvested ones. While they may appear to be plastic, the cap and shoulder components are derived from sugarcane - a renewable resource. At $2 per bottle, they are recyclable and refillable.

"It is a much better option than what we did have," Miller said.

"It's not made from plastic and it is like a milk cartoon, so to speak," she added. "It's biodegradable."

While they are sold as "single use," Miller noted that staff has repeatedly been using them.

"You can clean it and you can rinse it and you can reuse it," she said.

The materials of the JUST Water bottles represent a 47 percent to 74 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emission compared to PET plastic bottles.

In addition, JUST Water is trying to be a good steward of the community it is based in.

Walsh explained that the spring water is sourced and packaged in Glens Fall, New York. Hit by economic downturns, the city had been struggling to maintain services without tax increases. JUST Water did not "pump and go" - it partnered with the city and pays six times the municipal rate.

JUST Water also only bottles excess water that the city would not otherwise need.

The revenue is used to make needed repairs to the city's aging water infrastructure system.

Walsh noted that it bought and renovated an abandoned church for its bottling site.

"So that's helping the community," she said. "They put more money into the local economy and are creating jobs."

Miller pointed out the labeling on the bottles talks about recycling and such.

"It's an educational opportunity, as well as an opportunity to quench their thirst," she said.

As for logistics, the JUST Water bottles are easier for the Nature Store to display.

"One of our volunteers donated a little fridge," Walsh said. "They're square, so they stack really easily."

"The fit in a bicycle water holder, they fit in a car cup," she added. "Because of the wider mouth, you can even put ice cubes into them if you want."

The company recently announced its new JUST Water Infused line.

"They're making a flavored infused water now," Walsh said.

With no artificial flavors, no added sweeteners or sugar, and no preservatives, the options come in organic lemon, organic tangerine and organic apple cinnamon. The store expects to sample some soon.

"Ding" Darling was the first refuge in the nation to "kick" plastic bottles.

"Single use plastic bottles are just horrible on the environment and the wildlife," Miller said. "We're just doing our small part."

For more information on the refuge, visit

For more information about JUST Water, visit

The J.N. "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge is at 1 Wildlife Drive, Sanibel.



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