KEY LARGO ECOBUSINESS SAVES ON PLASTIC BOTTLES

Owner Renee Gilbert opened FL Keys Refillery in September.

On Sept. 19, Renee Gilbert—a long-time local, mom of three and lover of the ocean—took a plunge (no pun intended) and opened the doors of her zero-waste and refillery store, FL Keys Refillery. 

Reader, you are not alone if you just read the last sentence and said, “Refillery? What’s that?”

“A lot of people don’t know what this is,” Gilbert said. In short, a refillery is a shop where shoppers can fill their own containers with cleaning products to minimize single-use plastics.

During Keys Weekly’s visit to the store, customer Stacey Bedford walked in with her 5-year-old daughter, Anna.

“There’s nothing like this in the Keys,” Bedford said enthusiastically to Gilbert as she perused the shelves of products. “And people down here are environmentally conscious.”

At the “Refill Bar,” little Anna reached up to pump out a cedar-and-sage hair conditioner into a stainless-steel bottle that Bedford had brought in. The bar is lined with large jugs of such daily necessities as hand soap, body wash, hair shampoo and conditioners, laundry detergent, household cleaners and more.

Prices are anywhere from 22 cents per ounce for glass cleaner to $2.74 an ounce for sunscreen. Gilbert first weighs the shopper’s container, which is then filled with the liquid of their choice. Then Gilbert weighs the container again and subtracts the container’s initial weight to get the final price.

“And it’s cheaper, since you’re paying for the product, not the packaging,” said Gilbert as she weighed the conditioner for Bedford.

Shoppers bring in their own clean containers, though she has some for sale. “People will bring in plastic water bottles. I’ve even seen a wine bottle. Anything is good, as long as it’s clean and dry. Just use what you have.”

Gilbert’s goal is to “add many zeros” onto this sign, which tracks the amount of plastic bottles that the refillery has prevented from being bought.

Aside from the Refill Bar, Gilbert has stocked her shelves with organic and nontoxic items, such as Poppy & Pout lip balm (word is, Oprah loves it), and low-waste products, including biodegradable bamboo toothbrushes and “toothpaste” in tablet form with no plastic and cardboard packaging. There are even “Swedish dish towels” that are the equivalent of 17 rolls of paper towels. 

Gilbert is constantly researching more eco-conscious items, so customers can check her social media for new arrivals. She just got in organic snacks for your four-legged fur babies: baked treats in bacon and carob flavors. And soon to come: loose coffee beans, teas, spices and grains Just bring a container, and load up.

In addition, she has her own line of homemade candles, soaps and body scrubs. Called Sunny Turtle Creations, they pay tribute to the classic Keys way that Gilbert grew up: loving the ocean. 

These toothbrushes are made from biodegradable bamboo, and the tooth-cleaning tablets avoid the use of wasteful plastic and cardboard packaging.

“I’ve been here since my family came in 1983, when I was 8-years-old. I worked at a dive shop in high school. And I love turtles. I’d do anything for them,” Gilbert said, pointing at her turtle tattoo. “A turtle will see a plastic bag in the water and swallow it because they think it’s a jellyfish. I spent my childhood out on the reef and watched the deterioration. If everyone can do one simple thing, it can make a huge impact.”

Gilbert discovered the existence of refilleries through selling her Sunny Turtle Creations line at a market. A regular customer asked her one day if she could buy soap but not the plastic container.

“So I researched and found out about refilleries, and I thought, ‘This is genius,’” said Gilbert, who worked in a local bank for 17 years and raised three children in the Upper Keys with her husband of 23 years. She used her business smarts, creativity and the help of her family to begin another life as a brick-and-mortar business owner.

Nov. 3 will be the first of her monthly paint nights, as a way to have fun, promote her store and introduce the refillery idea to locals. Meanwhile, word is spreading. Bedford said that she found out about it through the FL Keys Refillery Facebook page.

“I’m going to come back for Christmas presents,” said Bedford.

FL Keys Refillery is located in Suite 305 at 100410 Overseas Highway, Key Largo, bayside. 

Store hours (starting November 1) are Tuesday and Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Thursday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and closed Sunday and Monday. For more information about FL Keys Refillery, go to sunnyturtlecreations.com, see @flkeysrefillery on Instagram or Facebook, or call 305-741-7885.

Charlotte Twine fled her New York City corporate publishing life and happily moved to the Keys six years ago. She has written for Travel + Leisure, Allure, and Offshore magazines; Elle.com; and the Florida Keys Free Press. She loves her two elderly Pomeranians, writing stories that uplift and inspire, making children laugh, the color pink, tattoos, Johnny Cash, and her husband. Though not necessarily in that order.