top of page

The Sustainable Smoker

This article is from the perspective of the pipe maker Hector. Different yet valid opinions on the matter are out there. Forgive the finger wagging.

Many of us are striving to reduce our waste footprint during our stay on Earth. Over the years I have spent countless thought cycles contemplating our role in the ecosystem, and my kid's future in it. I ponder the "large" predicament our civilization is in as a whole, and the "small" predicaments we are in every week, staring at our favorite food products in the grocery store, wrapped in non recyclable plastic. Which is destined for the landfill, the atmosphere via incineration, or the ocean. I encourage everyone to research the challenges and changes scientists think we and our children are going to face in our lifetimes regarding our environment and our waste systems. The chemistry of our oceans and atmosphere is being changed by human systems.

One small droplet in the ocean of sustainability that I can write about- is our smoking habits. This is something seemingly so little, yet it is tied deeply to our routines and culture, and therefore tied to everything else. Many products, now including smoking products, consume packaging, plastic, batteries, metal, and other materials at an unsustainable rate. As in- a rate that can not, should not, and could not go on for another 200 years. Plastic in the form of disposable lighters, and cheap disposable vaping parts are made from fossil fuels, and most are not recyclable. Other plastics that are not recyclable include many of the bags our food comes in, and the tops of most plastic bottles. In the triangle of "reduce, reuse, recycle" keep in mind that "reduce" and "reuse" both come before "recycle". Recycling is still a compromise in a waste generating system. There is a substantial energy, material, and time cost to operate the recycling systems, and even still there is always a percentage of waste through every step of re-purposing.

Over the decades, the world consuming these products day in and day out mean that much of the trash finds its way into the waterways and the ocean. We now have concentrations of plastic, from full sized waste, to small plastic debris, to microscopic polymer particles drifting around the oceans. The chemicals and polymers that make up the wastes and plastics are being broken down and entering the food chain, being passed down all the way to us again. And many of it does not break down at all. Smaller organisms absorb these alien components through various ways, and pass it up every step of the food chain through their bodies. Animals at the top of the food chain, like big fish and mammals, have the highest concentrations of these toxins. There is evidence that some Inuit women in Canada have elevated polychlorinated biphenyls in their breast milk due to their diet of sea life from the top of the food chain. Dead spots are creeping up in oceans and bays from industry waste, whose waters now lack enough oxygen to support wildlife. Currents in the middle of the Pacific that collect nutrients are now collecting the whole world's trash, choking the natural systems and collecting industry toxins mixed with plastic mixed with nets mixed with dead wildlife.

Plastic waste floating off the coast of Roatan, Honduras. Underwater photographer Caroline Power found the plastic blanket of forks, bottles and rubbish 15 miles off the coast of Roatan heading towards the Cayos Cochinos Marine Reserve. -DailyMail

There are some ways of living (and even smoking) that help us stay rooted in minimalism, and help us keep our footprint low. There are other smoking methods, (very popular ones) that leave measurable traces of consumption that we should all monitor, and take time to think about. The next wave of industry innovation could be in improving these products to better fit a sustainable society.

Habit of Debate: "Disposable Lighters, Every Day, All Day."

The contents of the plastic crate in this photo make up just a portion of the 1249 cigarette lighters found on the shorelines of Midway Atoll during this mission. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

The contents of the plastic crate in this photo make up just a portion of the 1249 cigarette lighters found on the shorelines of Midway Atoll during this mission. NOAA photo by Kristen Kelly

The vast majority (if not all) of disposable lighters are not recyclable. Archaeologists in the future will find these in the fossil record everywhere. And let's be honest, how many of us on average can keep track of a lighter until it actually runs out? Lots of us lose it before then. I'm not perfect, I still find myself using these all the time, but I would like to reduce my use the best I can. Below is a sample of some methods to help reduce our disposable lighter waste.

Alternatives to Disposable Lighters:

Hemp wick will keep a smoke session going with less or no lighter use. Find yourself a good source of hemp wick and experiment! This picture is of a hand pipe with hemp wick wrapped around the 14mm slide. Here is just one of many popular and quality brands at your local smoke shop:

A lens can theoretically last forever with zero waste as you use it. You are limited to the ebb and flow of natural sunlight, but for some that is part of the fun, and part of what makes solar smoking special. A lens can also offer lower burn temperatures than lighters, matches, and hemp wicks. With patience and practice, you can learn to create hybrid hits of vaporization and low temperature combustion. Our product the Sun Token is all about exploring the possibilities of solar smoking. If you were stuck on a deserted island with all the smoking tools in the world, and all the dry herb you could ask for- your lens would be the only thing working in the end.

Electronic Flameless Lighters are new products that rely on small electrical arcs. These lighters do not need fuel, and do not use flame. They can be recharged, but keep in mind that one day the battery will succumb to battery death. But that kind of waste is still less then your average plastic lighter use regimen. (No offense Bic, you do make some sweet paddle boards though..) Here is