FLOYD COUNTY — A partnership between Floyd County and a local nonprofit encourages people to recycle and supports efforts to provide clean water for those in need.

This week, the Floyd County Solid Waste Management District kicked off a collection drive to support WaterStep, a Louisville-based organization that helps communities access safe water systems. 

The district will collect gently-used shoes until at least May 15 at Floyd County's recycling center at 3005 Grant Line Road. WaterStep will sell the shoes to support its clean drinking water projects.

Collection bins are set up at the Grant Line Road site with the WaterStep logo.

Ron McKulick, shoe development coordinator for WaterStep, said in the past 28 years, the organization has worked in 96 countries to provide "sustainable water solutions." The organization's water systems have supported more than 8 million people, he said. 

WaterStep manufactures products such as the "Water on Wheels" cart, chlorine generator kits and bleach-making kits, and it offers training in developing countries on how to operate safe water systems.

"The technology is proven simple, durable and very reliable," McKulick said.

The products provided by WaterStep offer a "sustainable system that they can operate day in and day out for the long-term," McKulick said.

Floyd County Solid Waste Manager Scott Stewart said the county is striving to get more people recycling in the community, and after talking with McKulick, they came up with the idea of partnering up to both promote recycling and support the "critical need" of safe water.

"Pure, clean water is a big demand, and you should always be looking for opportunities to partner to greater the good," he said.

Stewart said after May 15, the partners will consider whether there is enough demand to extend the collection drive.

Floyd County Commissioner Al Knable describes the effort as a "win-win-win" situation.

"The humanitarian aspect of this sells itself," he said. "It helps the county meet its goals in regards to recycling, and from a pragmatic standpoint, we have a finite resource in a landfill that only has so much room, so every shoe that's not in our landfill gives us a little bit more breathing room until we have to find another landfill. So it's a wonderful program, and I'm happy that we're all participating in it."

Floyd County Commissioner John Schellenberger said people often take utilities such as clean water for granted.

"We turn on the tap, we've got water — clean water," he said. "So what Ron and WaterStep [are] doing is providing that same utility to other countries."

WaterStep helps communities across the world that do not have access to clean, reliable water, and it steps up in times of crisis in the United States and abroad. This involves sending supplies to Ukraine amid the war and helping out Kentucky communities after natural disasters.

In February, WaterStep donated products to Turkey in the aftermath of the devastating earthquakes.

"Those same tools are very effective in responding to a disaster, so when tornadoes hit Western Kentucky in December of 2021, we were there within a few days with the [water carts] to help set up water systems, because people had no safe water," he said. "Same thing with Eastern Kentucky [after] the flooding. Same thing with Ukraine. And the same thing with Turkey. So whether it's a disaster here on the homefront or around the world, the same tools can help."

Last year, WaterStep received about 140,000 pounds of used shoes. The organization sells the shoes to an exporter, who sells them to businesses in developing countries, McKulick said.

"We use the proceeds to build and implement [water solutions]," he said. "The shoes are worth about $1 a piece on the export market. That's not a huge amount of money, but the money goes a long way. And the shoes also provide a means of letting a lot of people know in a simple way about water issues, how they can contribute and that there is a regional organization in Kentuckiana that is dedicated to doing that work around the world."

The water systems offer a "fundamental bit of stability," and WaterStep's system costs only $3.35 to operate each day, McKulick said.

"The community gets the [products], they move the unclean water from the water source that they have already, and we are instrumental in making the water safe for people to use so they don't have chronic diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, typhoid, what have you, and it transforms the community," he said.

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