When Michael McQuilter, Infrastructure Planner at Suncor’s Base Plant, and the rest of the Turnaround team noticed the watercoolers in lunchrooms and hydration stations had been replaced by single-use water bottles, they saw an opportunity.

Individual bottles of water were being used in place of watercoolers across Suncor sites and offices throughout the pandemic to help reduce the spread of germs. For Michael’s team, this meant a lot of plastic.

“We bring in a large workforce to support turnaround and planned maintenance activities throughout the year—anywhere between 4,000 and 6,000 people during peak times,” explains Michael. “It’s important to keep everyone hydrated and healthy during this work, which means we go through a lot of water.”

The team couldn’t bear the thought of all those bottles going straight to the recycling depot when there were so many organizations in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) that could benefit from the refund dollars they would generate.

But with thousands of empty bottles a week, the team knew they couldn’t make this idea happen alone.  So, they enlisted help, including Indigenous-owned ACDEN Environment, who provided large recycling bins, and community volunteers to help collect the bottles.

“As an energy company, we should be doing the best we can to care for the environment,” says Michael. “It doesn’t make sense to not recycle, so we came up with a responsible recycling plan.”

The image contains many clear recycling bags will with empty water bottles
Plastic water bottles collected by the Turnaround team waiting to be sorted and counted. 

Working with the Indigenous and Community Relations team and SunCares—a Suncor employee program that amplifies employee contributions to communities—various organizations in the area were chosen to receive donations generated by the water bottle refunds. 

Since the team started saving the bottles in the spring of 2020, they’ve turned thousands of empty water bottles into $12,000 for organizations in Fort McMurray. This money was divided and donated to the Norfort Gymnastics Association, the Fort McMurray SPCA; and Santas Anonymous.

The Turnaround team will continue to save its bottles for community organizations for the rest of the year or until the water coolers are reinstated.

Puppy love

Katelin Tobin, a heavy equipment operator at Base Plant, always wanted a dog, but her long hours in the cab of one of the largest vehicles in the world made it difficult to be a dog parent. 

Until Bella, a 10-week old puppy, snuggled her way into Katelin’s life (and heart) late last year.

The image is of a woman, with blond hair, wearing a black sweater. She is smiling and holding a young dog.
Katelin Tobin, a heavy equipment operator at Suncor’s Base Plant, with her puppy Bella.

Bella was adopted from the Fort McMurray SPCA, one of the organizations that received donations from Turrnaround’s bottle exchange. At the time, the shelter was experiencing an influx of animals. 

“Bella is my first dog ever, but I had wanted a dog for a long time,” says Katelin. “When we adopted Bella, the timing worked out with my shifts and my boyfriend’s shifts being opposite, and we had a friend who would check in on her when we were at work.”

Katelin, originally from Newfoundland, has been operating heavy equipment since moving to Fort McMurray six years ago. Her grandfather was also a heavy equipment operator and drove heavy haulers at a mine in Newfoundland, giving them a lot more to talk about now. 

“I can see how people just starting out as an operator can be intimidated, but if you can get past the size of the truck, it’s a pretty good job to have. After all, I get to drive a truck that’s the size of a house,” Katelin adds with a laugh.

Bella is now over a year old and settling into her cozy new life, which includes Katelin’s boyfriend and his six-year-old daughter. 

The image is of an adult dog sitting on a large truck tire that is partially sticking out of the ground in a park. There are trees, green grass and blue sky
Bella once a shelter puppy at the SPCA in Fort McMurray now lives a happy life with Katelin and her family.

“We applied for a few puppies before Bella, but they didn’t work out,” explains Katelin. “I believe everything happens for a reason and now that we have Bella, I can see why the others didn’t work out. She has a sweet personality and she’s just excellent.”

Katelin admits that caring for a puppy after working a long shift was tiring at times, but she had lots of support and knew that foregoing sleep would be worth the puppy love Bella would give to her family for many years to come.