A man built water collection systems to combat California’s drought

California has been going through a historic drought for what feels like a decade at this point and to address it people are beginning to get creative. 

Buzz Boettcher didn’t want to see any water go to waste and started planning on how to recycle water.

“I’ve done a lot of offshore sailing and racing over the years, and it didn’t make sense that ten people could live on a boat for 15 days out in the ocean and survive on 200 gallons of water, and you come ashore, and you use 20,000 gallons a month,” Buzz said.

So he started building a device that would collect rainwater and convert it into grey water. That water, which would most likely end up washing down the gutter then could be used to do things like flushing toilets.

After starting his first one at the Santa Monica Pico branch library he’s started opening water collection systems around Southern California even making it to an Eately restaurant.

The systems are expanding outside California as well like one where they’re working out how to recycle truck wash water for much of the same purpose.

“It doesn’t make sense to use nice, clean, potable water to flush toilets,” Buzz said. “Talk about good water going after bad.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action among others.


Maya van Rossum: the Delaware Riverkeeper making a difference

In environmental advocacy work, it’s hard to do enough. There are always more proverbial fires to put out than there are hands to put them out. And yet someone like Maya van Rossum seems to do the impossible: make positive change with whatever project she works on. 

Beyond anything, Maya wants to put out positive energy into the world, even signing off her emails “Smiling Maya.” When it comes to her environmental work, she traces everything back to her upbringing. 

“I had a wonderful mother that encouraged and nurtured my love of nature and my desire to stand up for justice whenever I could because that’s what she did,” Maya tells Smiley News. “She was an environmental activist, but when she saw something wrong in the world, she would work to fix it.”

Maya’s efforts have taken her far and wide and it’s hard to overstate the work that she’s done. She’s helped push legislation against fracking efforts, especially through Green Amendments For The Generations, a national nonprofit organization. She has also earned the title, the “Deleware Riverkeeper” for her work with the regional advocacy organization the Delaware Riverkeeper Network going back over 30 years. 

To succeed at much of the work she’s done, she puts her expertise in law to use, where she’s a licensed attorney in three states.

“When I was in college, I was trying to figure out my path, and what to do, and just by happenstance, I took a law course it was about contracts,” she says. “I found it very fascinating and of course, I loved the environment.

“And so I went to a college professor and I said, ‘Is there a way to marry the interests I have in the law with my interest in standing up for the environment’ and he said, ‘yes, there’s a thing called Environmental Law.’”

She didn’t want to be a lawyer though, she wanted to use her education to become a better activist. 

One of her primary focuses has been environmental racism, where there may be more environmental devastation and pollution in poorer areas often populated by people of color and other minorities. 

“The way it plays out is it’s actually easier for communities or for developers to place their operations nearby communities of color indigenous communities, because those people have less political influence and less money to fight back against whatever it is that’s being proposed,” Maya explains.

“And once they start getting all of these industrial operations placed around them, the environment is degraded. The argument that gets set up by the people with more money and affluence says, ‘well, that environments already harmed so just don’t put your industrial operation in this clean, pristine piece of nature. Put it over there where the damage is already happening.’”

Put bluntly, Maya just wanted to make a difference, and has in her decades in the environmental activism realm, fighting for active green legislation in all 50 states.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.


‘Bubble barriers’ are helping keep our oceans plastic-free

Bubbles. You love them in the bath, in a bottle, in your flavoured water.

But now, there’s an even better reason to love these fun and whimsical miracles of science.

 The Bubble Barrier at Oude Rijn river at Katwijk in the mid-western Netherlands.

Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans – and as much as 80% of that plastic is estimated to have arrived there after being dumped into rivers.

A team of Dutch inventors came up with the Great Bubble Barrier back in 2019 and the first one was deployed in the mouth of the Oude Rijn (Old Rhine) river at Katwijk in mid-western Netherlands.

Locals have been upset by the plastic littering nearby beaches for a long time and, finally, there is an invention that will do something about it.

The bubble barrier in Amsterdam

The Great Bubble Barrier works by creating a ‘bubble curtain’ using a perforated tube placed diagonally on the bottom of the waterway. Air is pumped through this tube, creating bubbles!

The bubble curtain prevents plastics from passing through and instead pushes them to the surface of the water and to the edges of the waterway where there is a catchment system. After this, the plastic can be appropriately disposed of, preventing it from polluting oceans and beaches.

An illustration of how the bubble barriers work.

The bubble curtain allows fish and otherwildlife to pass through unhindered, and the whole system works 24/7, 365, regardless of what the water levels are like.

Since the success of the bubble barrier in the Netherlands, another has been deployed in Amsterdam, and two more are planned for Portugal and Germany.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.


New ‘smart tampon’ to help detect cervical cancer sooner

John Hopkins University has made a huge technological advancement that can help protect people from cervical cancer.

The advancement, called a “smart tampon,” aims to replace pap smears, while being used to detect cancer. The smart tampon would instead detect the disease using artificial intelligence.

The idea came from Madeleine Howard and Hayley Hoaglund during an artificial intelligence course lab. The device looks and feels like a tampon, but at its top, there’s a highly sensitive camera that takes images of the cervix to screen for cancer. 

“It would compare your cervix cells with abnormal cervix cells and be able to assess if you have any irregularities and prompt you to visit a doctor if needed,” said Hoaglund.

Since cervical cancer is preventable if caught early enough this sort of development is massive.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


‘Skip The Tip’ and give your trash another life

A campaign is encouraging people to embrace the circular economy this January – and Skip the Tip!

Skip the Tip?

#SkipTheTip is a new campaign by YoungPlanet, created by parents Jason and Emma Ash. YoungPlanet is a platform and app designed to ‘declutter, give joy, save the planet’, by encouraging people to embrace the circular economy.

So how does it work?

Just like many apps and websites that help you sell your unwanted items, YoungPlanet allows you to create listings of items you no longer need. People can then browse the app, request an item they want, and get it completely for free!

Not only does it mean people are getting items for free, it means we aren’t creating waste in the same way.

YoungPlanet has already helped over 150,000 people save £1 million worth of children’s items from landfill by encouraging families to make cashless exchanges.

If you’re interested in YoungPlanet, take a look at the website here.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.


‘Champing’ is saving historic buildings

‘Champing’ is saving historic buildings. In fact, it has had a record year in churches across England and Wales.


Launched in 2016 by the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT), what is now known as ‘champing’ is … camping in churches.

Camping … in churches?

The initiative helps to protect Anglican churches that have been closed down and are now considered at risk.

People wanting to travel get unusual (and fun!) accommodations, while the churches are provided with money to keep the ancient buildings in good condition.

They’re even happy to let your furry friends come along for the trip – even better!

How do I sign up?

If you’re interested in champing, take a look at the CCT website.

Rates start at £49 a night, with 25% off for groups of 8-11 (£36.75) and 30% off for groups of 12-16 (£34.30).

This article aligns with the UN SDG Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure.


City retrofits underused church classrooms to house homeless

Looking to transform an unused section of a church into 16 condos, a Wisconsin town is aiming to help homeless veterans find shelter.

Using $1.14 million in covid relief funding, the town of Eau Claire is turning the classrooms in the Grace Lutheran Church into condos suitable for living.

“It’s something that we hadn’t planned on doing,” Chippewa Valley Habitat for Humanity Executive Director John Dawson said. “We were looking more at doing homes, ground-up homes that we buy or homes that are tired that we fix up. But this opportunity came about. We looked at it and we just kept moving the ball down the road.”

The proposal for the condos came from the local Habitat for Humanity and must receive final approval from the Eau Claire city council with a vote planned for February 14.

Some of the final decisions are being worked out. For example, it’s still not decided if the veterans will rent or own the condos and if they’ll be able to use Veterans Affairs Supportive Housing vouchers through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to help with housing costs. 

“That’s a leg up on finding a decent, safe and sanitary place to live,” said Eau Claire Housing Authority Executive Director Keith Jonathan. “It only makes sense. It’s like a win-win, as far as I’m concerned.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


An enlightening project to change perceptions of mental illness

It’s only in recent years that the conversation surrounding mental health has changed from one of judgement to one of compassion. But even now there are exceptions – some mental illnesses are seen as more acceptable, while others are seen as more ‘taboo’.

For people who suffer from mental illnesses such as Borderline Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder, it can be incredibly isolating. While your healthcare professionals are there to help, they often talk about the That is why two friends decided to set up the nonprofit: ‘Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You’.

At Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You, also known as Lives Not Labels, Katja and her friend and co-founder Kay are dedicated to breaking down the negative stigma associated with mental illnesses. In particular, they focus on illnesses that either are rarely spoken of or get a lot of negative press – like personality disorders.

“I was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in March 2021,” says Katja. “It was quite a long process to gain that diagnosis. And a lot of it was down to the fact that, although I have symptoms of BPD, it was quite difficult to tell what they actually were because I am what most people would probably describe as ‘high functioning’. I have a job, a family, I work full-time.”

Proving that mental health treatment is an ongoing process, Katja’s own diagnosis has recently changed. According to Mind UK, the mental health charity, it isn’t uncommon for people’s diagnoses to change throughout their lifetime – just one more thing that makes diagnosing and treating mental illnesses more complex.

“You don’t really ever hear about the unpleasant side of mental illness that people don’t like to talk about because there isn’t (at the moment) a very positive way that you can spin those,” explains Katja, about the name.

“So, we decided that if we were going to talk about mental illness and share lived experience, then it had to be across the board. And it had to include those mental illnesses that the media don’t find very sexy, so to speak.”

An image of Katja

Studies have shown just how media representation can affect public perception of mental illness. Whether it takes the form of a TV show or movie, an ill-informed documentary, or an article, what people see of mental illnesses in media directly affects their opinion. 

“In October 2021, me and my friend, Kay set up ‘Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You’. We’ve been friends for a really long time,” explains Katja. By sheer coincidence she, and best friend since age 11 Kay, both have personality disorders.

“We were talking about our diagnoses and saying … although it’s really easy to type BPD, or whatever mental illness into Google and see lots of information, you couldn’t really find any about lived experience. So because we couldn’t find much in the way of that kind of resource out there. We decided to set it off ourselves.”

Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You is a website where people are able to share their own stories and experiences of mental illness. Whether they themselves have a mental illness, or it’s their partner or family member, everyone is welcome to share their experience.

The stories are submitted anonymously, in both English and German, which Katja translates, to allow as many people as possible a safe space to talk about their experiences with mental illness.

An image of Katja

Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You has made huge waves online, with positive feedback from posters and readers alike. Katja has had feedback from those who know someone with a mental health problem, who have found greater understanding and empathy from using Sorry My Mental Illness Isn’t Sexy Enough For You; which is just the difference she was hoping to make. 

But, perhaps the biggest impact, was also the most unexpected.

“One of the really nice things for us has been that when we’ve looked through lists of subscribers, there’s a lot of mental health professionals that are using the site as well, to educate themselves and see what life is like for the people that they’re working with.

“And that for us is so important.”

This article aligns with the UN SDG Good Health and Wellbeing.


Plant a tree with every cuppa with this business

We’re back with your weekly roundup of businesses that are doing their best to be the best – for people, and for the planet.

This week there’s a theme – can you tell? Whatever your morning pick-me-up is, you can be sure to indulge with an extra spoonful of moral superiority after looking at this list.


Waitrose has just announced that they will be selling own-brand, home-compostable tea bags.

The ‘Duchy’ teabag range is now accredited with a TUV OK compost HOME certification – this basically means that the teabags can be placed directly into an at-home compost heap or bin. 

Even better, the tags on the teabags have been changed to limit the ink involved in the design – this makes it much easier for the teabags to break down and compost.

According to Waitrose, this could stop 4.5 million tea bags from going to waste in just the first year following the change. Amazing.


Bird and Blend has partnered with the World Preservation Foundation to turn every cuppa into another tree planted.

Every time you buy a drink in a Bird and Blend store and use a takeaway cup, you not only get 50p off your purchase but a tree will be planted with the WPF.

Plus, Bird and Blend uses exclusively plant-based cups for their drinks. So, for any drink you buy, in any cup, in any store, 12p will be donated to WPF – and that 12p will plant a tree. Even more of a reason to try out some fun new tea flavours (and there are so many to choose from!).


Grind is a UK-based coffee company with plenty of cafes, trucks and shops all across London. What makes them really special is their approach to sustainability and the way they are changing what it means to make your morning coffee.

Grind makes Nespresso coffee pods that you can use in a coffee machine, except they are complete, 100% sustainable and compostable. They don’t use plastic or aluminium, which most coffee pods do, and will break down faster than grass in your home compost.

Plus, if for some reason one of their pods were to make it to a landfill or into the ocean – they would still naturally breakdown in this environment. We love it.

This article aligns with the UN SDG Climate Action.


Teenager raises £55k for charity through random acts of kindness

One teenager’s random acts of kindness have raised thousands for charity.

Amazing! Tell me more.

During the pandemic in March 2020, Sebbie Hall pledged to raise £1000 for charity by performing a kind act every single day for a month. 

Three years later and he has smashed that target, raising over £55,000, and has even set up his own charity – the Sebbie Hall Kindness Foundation.

What random acts of kindness has he done?

Everything from buying lottery tickets for strangers to giving teddies to Ukrainian orphans, Sebbie is nowhere close to stopping in his quest to spread joy and happiness to others.

The aim of the Sebbie Hall Kindness Foundation is to bring happiness to others and to help disabled and vulnerable people because Sebbie doesn’t want anyone to feel lonely. We love it.

Joining Sebbie as patrons of his charity are actors Richard Brake and Eddie Marsan – but has had support from other celebrities too like Ant and Dec and Catherine Tate.

This article aligns with the UN SDGs Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions and Partnership for the Goals.