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30Th Anniversary

30th Anniversary of the Foothills Salvage and Recycling Society

By Renee Miller

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Dr. Seuss 

This year marks the 30th Anniversary of the Foothills Salvage and Recycling Society. In the last 10 years alone the FSRS has donated over $1 million dollars to charitable organizations throughout the Foothills. Thanks to the visionary insights of one Turner Valley resident, Cheryle Dobbyn, the FSRS is able to divert thousands of tonnes of useful, reusable items at a low cost to the community while at the same time supporting our local charities.

Who is Cheryle Dobbyn, and how was any of this made possible?

Cheryle’s family is very Irish. Cheryle spent two years researching where to live and what to do in Ireland before relocating herself and her two children for a taste of her family’s roots. She wanted to buy a donkey and be able to walk for groceries. This was shortly after she fought hard to stop a highway from being constructed in front of her home on South Railway Street in Okotoks.

Cheryle’s relocation to Ireland was short-lived. She remembers at the time that Ireland had just joined the EU; the cost of owning property was astronomical but the culture hadn’t caught up with the money. Cheryle was certain that the national bird of Ireland was the car alarm. Cars were being stolen daily, and the only penalty for getting caught was a 20 pound fine.

After returning to the Foothills from Ireland, Cheryle was on the hunt for her next challenge, and she found it as an elected town councilwoman for Turner Valley in 1992. She immediately identified the landfill as her next battleground. Residents were upset about a signed deal with Calgary that would result in Creosote lumber being dumped in Okotoks. Cheryle joined in the rally for the clean water fight, and the residents won the landfill was handed over to the Municipal District and private contractors were a thing of the past.

In her early days of politics, Cheryle was primarily concerned that the estimated life span of the landfill in 1992 was only 25 years; she was determined to learn ways to improve on that estimate to make the landfill site more sustainable. Cheryle together with the landfill board worked hard to build a professional, technologically engineered plan to extend the life of the landfill for the future. Specialist sanitation engineers ( were hired to build that plan, and the new pod system was created while the poisoned dirt was secured. Cheryle says that, “Even simple and obvious conclusions were a fight on the Landfill Board, but brains eventually prevailed over “ and we now have a functioning well-run land fill.

Cheryle sings that she “was born, bred and buttered in Saskatchewan.” She proudly remembers burning her bra in 1968 in Regina. She wasn’t about to let an “old boys” landfill commission stand in her way. Cheryle’s mom was a product of the 1930s depression, and she recalls as a small child that she recycled, reused and refurbished the materials around her. Cheryle says, “I’ve been poor. People don’t understand poverty. We waste a ridiculous amount of stuff and it makes me puke.”

In order to change this culture of waste in the Foothills, Cheryle realized that she would have to convince everyone on council to listen, and she would have to find the money to bring her vision to fruition. Cheryle recalls that everything was a fight, “all we hit were walls.”

On her visits to the landfill, Cheryle would often see a beautiful armchair or similarly reusable item and could not believe that people were just throwing these things away. Cheryle was determined to see things change. Cheryle reminds us that, “Recycling was a new concept in the late 80 s/early 90s and a group of 5 women in the community had formed the original Foothills Salvage and Recycling Society and were trying to initiate recycling centres in the Foothills municipalities. Cheryle reminisces that people now see these facilities as a staple in the community, but it was just these 5 women who broke the ground for the future, making even just recycling paper a possibility.

Cheryle happened to be on Town Council at just the right time to support these pioneering women’s recycling efforts. Once recycling became part of the community, these five women had let the registration of Foothills Salvage and Recycling Society lapse, and when Cheryle asked their permission to reinvigorate the Society, they agreed. Cheryle often says, “I did not do this alone. I did not have to create a Recycling Society. It was already there, just waiting. These women’s fight to open minds opened a crack in the door of a different world.”

With newfound Society status, Cheryle could begin applying for grants. Her first grant was from Shell Canada in the amount of $3,000. Cheryle determined that all she needed to get started was 1) an army tent and 2) a gravel pad. Cheryle acquired the army tent for $1,800.00 and she convinced the MD landfill management to gravel the pad in exchange for the remaining $1,200.00.

Cheryl remembers that she faced constant opposition from the landfill.

The FSRS was only open 2 days per week on Fridays and Saturdays by donation, and items were free to the public any other day. Cheryle and Becky Gingrich, the FSRS’s official first volunteer, diligently manned the tent every week and in the Fall when the tent had to be folded up, Cheryle and her kids and Becky and her kids hauled what was left at the dump. Even with the extra hands, Cheryle remembers, “It took us a week!” Even operating only two days per week, the newly minted FSRS was able to divert an enormous amount of useful items from being needlessly thrown away. In the second year the salvaged amount doubled.

In those days well before Kijiji and Facebook Market Place, back when new movies took months to be released on VHS, the free pile served an important purpose; recycling useful items through the community, diverting volume from our landfills, and educating our communities on the value of reuse. The Army tent served the newly minted FSRS for two full years before disintegrating. In the meantime, both the landfill and the Foothills region were beginning to warm to Cheryle’s salvage efforts.

In the third year, the landfill site donated one of three indoor bays for the FSRS to use for their operation. The bay could only be used from Spring to Fall, and anything left over in the winter had to be given or thrown away.

Cheryle knew that the FSRS desperately needed a permanent structure that could continue to operate through the winter. She knew that the entire cost of the building was going to be $ Cheryle did all the researching, and found a $59,000.00 grant from Shell Canada but had to have the same “money in kind” in order to be eligible. Cheryle scrambled to have trades donate skills, and to lobby the Municipalities and the landfill for the $30,000.00 balance. Once again, she faced constant opposition over the building of the White Building but in the end she prevailed.

The rest is history.

Thanks to the partnership that has evolved between the Landfill and the FSRS, the Salvage Center has steadily grown from the White building to include a much larger and more prominent principle building and an additional out building. The FSRS operates thanks to a combination of volunteers and paid staff, and continues to donate the money earned to charitable organizations throughout the Foothills. In the last 10 years the FSRS has been able to donate over $1,250,000 to a variety of charities in the county.

Cheryle recalls phone calls where on the other end of the line people have thousands of dollars of useful material they are planning to throw away. When Cheryl offers to take the items for free, she was often met with a strange refusal absent payment. People will gladly dump items, but too often were unwilling to donate them. To this day Cheryl chants, “People get weird over garbage.”

The solution?

“We have to educate our kids, they need to learn to consume differently,” Cheryl says. Margaret Mead once said, I measure success in terms of the contributions an individual makes to her fellow human beings. Never ever depend on governments or institutions to solve any major problems. All social change comes from the passion of individuals.

Cheryle says, “When I think of the THOUSANDS of people who have maintained households, clothed their kids, furnished a kitchen, built a dog house, read a book,… for a pittance, my heart fills. To know that one small unit in a small Town, has changed completely, an attitude towards consumerism, of sharing, of caring, of compassion… of learning that there is a better way to live, is a wonderful knowing. AND, t he “garbage that did NOT go into the “garbage”.

To this day, Cheryle Dobbyn continues to support the efforts of the FSRS and can be found shopping at the store. The Foothills Salvage and Recycling Society is forever grateful for the efforts of this visionary Turner Valley resident as are the countless beneficiaries of the work that the Salvage Center does.

Foothills Salvage & Recycling Society 30 yrs