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Butts and Bottled Water


Earlier this week, I read that Spain has ruled cigarette manufacturers responsible for the cost of cigarette butt clean-up. I was SOOOOO excited about that; completely over the top! Nirit Datta, an activist in India, has been collecting hundreds of thousands of butts from roadsides and shores and mailing them back to the cigarette companies who sold them. He’s one of my heroes. I’m wildly supportive of that sort of activism so was thrilled to see it had graduated, literally, from the gutter to a national government. (If you’re not aware of the toxic impact of cigarette butts, here’s a piece from the World Health Organization, released last year:  WHO raises alarm on tobacco industry environmental impact)


Although I have not yet returned to the energy needed for my brisk daily walks, I AM headed out today, wet and cold though it is, encouraged by a friend who lives (and walks) in another province and who has been an amazing walking partner as well as listener and en-coeur-ager over the years. My walks usually involve a long-handled pincher, a plastic bag, and well placed municipal garbage bins. Like others who are committed garbage-pickers, I learned early on that once you start picking up garbage on a walk, it is impossible to stop. If I don’t take the pincher or bag, I’ll end up stuffing garbage into my pockets until I reach a bin. So grabbing the accoutrements is essential on the way out the door.

I was a year into the habit before I began picking up cigarette butts. I’m not sure what took me so long. Maybe it was just that they were bloody annoying to get with the pincher tines or I thought I was going to catch something from them. Who knows? But one day, as I passed a home where the smoker is clearly directed to the edge of the property to smoke, I just couldn’t pass them by, so I picked up about thirty butts and thus began my commitment to butt up-picking. I’ve thought about putting the collected butts in the individual’s mailbox but only thought about it. Am hoping they see me one day and either leave me a tip or start picking the butts up themselves.

The work of cleaning up after ourselves has reached global proportions, as you are all aware. My compulsion to act is part of my need to keep moving, keep hoping, keep managing my life in a way that makes sense to me and that keeps me as far as possible out of the destructive loop humanity is caught in. That is a challenge, living, as I do, in a fifty-year old suburb in one of the most highly developed countries where communities continue to be built in a way that makes vehicular transportation practically necessary and neighbourly interaction probably accidental. I can’t walk to the corner to buy a loaf of bread or essentials; I have to drive or walk for forty-five minutes and then make sure I only purchase what I can carry those same forty-five minutes home. I’ve had to call Scott to come pick me up when I’ve purchased vegetables that were unexpectedly on sale and couldn’t make it home with the extra load.

So, it’s the little things, like picking up cigarette butts, that keep me going.

I have a list of little things; a long list that I want to share with you on these occasions when we get together; a little at a time so you don’t get overwhelmed with what others, including my significant other, might think is fanaticism! Each thing I share is something I do, or that Scott and I do at home, that helps me feel like I’m making a difference. Or, as the case may be, simply not piling anything more onto the already done damage.


It doesn’t take a ton of thought to find ways to reduce our impact on the environment and it doesn’t take a lot of money, though there can be initial costs. Most of what we have done has been relatively low cost and paid for itself many times over so setting up an ongoing way to reduce your environmental impact is fairly simple. We don’t have solar panels and haven’t even insulated our hot water pipes, having forgotten to do so before I demanded the basement ceiling be drywalled for aesthetic reasons. D’oh!

The mindset is a simple one. What would my mom or her mom have lived without when they were children and what can I learn from that to eliminate or reduce my impact? In fact, I have often considered Little House on the Prairie as an inspiration for simple ways to change my lifestyle to something more sustainable. No, I don’t watch reruns, but if you’re my age, you probably don’t have to! Just imagining a walk into Olesin’s Mercantile is enough to give pause to new purchases! Those of you a generation younger can imagine stopping at Avonlea’s General Store.

So, here we go!! First environmental tip (unless you’re already resolved to pick up garbage and cigarette butts)! It’s about water.

We use gallons and gallons of bottled water and our house. But don’t judge yet; it’s not what you’re thinking!

Those of us who live on municipal water rather than wells, often don’t worry about how much water we use. We turn the tap and clean, safe water pours out. Those who have wells do worry, especially in the summer months as water resources can dry up creating the need for rationing and purchasing bottled water or if multinational water bottling companies pump the water from the municipalities sources, but that’s another story. The reality is that, for most of us in Canada, clean water is readily available. That said, the situation in Indigenous communities remains dire and must be addressed. “As of October 2022, the federal government reported there are still 31 long-term drinking advisories on 27 reserve communities, with some in place for more than 25 years.” [1] And that’s yet another story….


If you live on municipal water, your focus is often the bill. Water use isn’t the greatest part of the bill, however; it is often other charges related to being on municipal water and charges that cover the process of getting the water to you. Maintenance, staff costs, facilities – older and new construction required to increase the amount delivered – all add up. In systems that are completely rate-based, that is, the amount directly charged the consumer rather than accumulated through property taxes, it can seem like saving water is hardly worth your while, it’s such a small part of the bill. But even if all you use to calculate the benefit is how much electricity it takes to get all those millions of gallons of water up there every day so it can be delivered to you when you need it, that is significant benefit enough. If we’re thinking environment, we need to think water conservation.

We have been bottling water for several years now. Using mostly half-gallon glass jugs (I drink a lot of apple cider vinegar) and a few plastic ones, we collect water whenever we need to run the tap to heat it. While the tap is running for a shower, all the water that normally goes down the drain is collected in the jug and used for other purposes – drinking, cleaning, watering indoor plants, filling the bird bath, whatever.



In the kitchen, we have a glass jar with a spigot. As we heat water for washing dishes, we fill that jug first and then fill the sink. The spigot makes it easy to use the water when we need to rinse a cup, wash something off our hands, or wipe down the counter. We set an empty jug or two in the bathroom so that it is there for morning showers. And there are always a few in the laundry room, too.



There are lots of ways to save water but these have been the most useful, and are absolutely brainless, making it super easy for us to make this difference. I am guessing we save at least two gallons of water per day, probably more. We save lots on laundry day because, although we mostly wash in cold water, we dissolve our laundry strips in warm water so, you guessed it, that means running the tap into a jug instead of down the drain. And all that capturing water in jugs means we keep that much from having to be pumped all the way up a big, big hill and into the water tower so it can drain down through our taps and into the drain system to just to start the journey all over again. Even that little bit, if several people in a community do it, can make a big difference.

Thanks for reading A Whole Lot of Broken! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work. Rev. Gretta Vosper

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