Smokers can sometimes leave behind more than just a cloud of smoke, and for Dean and Debbie McKay, that’s something they’re trying to do something about.
Coming to the Okanagan Valley from Vancouver Island, the couple was disappointed to see that littered cigarrette butts weren’t a rare sight.
“I grew up in Oliver, and it was a shame seeing them all over the streets and up and down the waterways,” said Dean.
So they brought a program they had supported as Rotarians on the island to the Okanagan, where they had partnered with a local branch of the international anti-pollution and anti-plastics group Surfrider.
That partnership saw canisters set up to gather cigarette butts instead of having people just drop them or toss them in the garbage.
“When we moved here we found there wasn’t a recycling program for cigarette butts, and people didn’t even know they could be recycled,” said Debbie.
The couple has been hard at work distributing canisters for cigarette butts to interested businesses up and down the South Okanagan, from Osoyoos up to Penticton.
In three weeks, the couple has had great support from the community, with businesses from hotels to RV parks asking for them to install the collection canisters.
So far they have installed 15 of the canisters, and have already made trips out to gather filled canisters.
Once the cigarette butts are collected, they’re shipped off to a company that separates out any of the remaining tobacco, and then melts down what’s left into plastic pallets and other products.
“They melt the butts down into industrial plastics and turn it into useful products,” said Dean.
In exchange for the raw material, the company donates money in turn to local charities.
“It benefits the environment and it benefits local charities, a lot of who are suffering right now,” said Debbie.
They hope that as more people hear about their program, the more canisters they can install and the fewer cigarette butts there will be making a mess in the environment.
The couple is currently chartering a new Rotary Club in Oliver, and once it is up and running, they plan to expand with further environmentally-minded programs once they have more hands to help.
Their next program? Gathering soaps and other toiletries from hotels, bed and breakfasts and other such places to donate them to the Oliver Missions Society to distribute to seniors and others in need.
“It keeps all that crap from going into our landfills, and hopefully cuts the waste of perfectly good products to use,” said Debbie.
“And most importantly helps out the people who can’t afford it,” added Dean.
All of the projects that the McKay’s are working on and planning will be designed with COVID-19 safety measures in mind.
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