"The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard"



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The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard

Story Of Stuff
By Annie Leonard

Do you have one of these? I got a little obsessed with mine, in fact I got a little obsessed with all my stuff. Have you ever wondered where all the stuff we buy comes from and where it goes when we throw it out.? I couldnt stop wondering about that. So I looked it up. And what the text books said is that our stuff simply moves along these stages: extraction to production to distribution to consump tion to disposal. All together, its called the materials economy.
Well, I looked into it a little bit more. In fact, I spent 10 years traveling the world tracking where our stuff comes from and where it goes. And you know what I found out? That is not the whole story. Theres a lot missing from this explanation.
For one thing, this system looks like its fine. No problem. But the truth is its a system in crisis. And the reason it is in crisis is that it is a linear system and we live on a finite planet and you can not run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely.

Every step along the way, this system is interacting with the real world. In real life its not happening on a blank white page. Its interacting with societies, cultures, economies, the environment. And all along the way, its bumping up against limits. Limits we dont see here because the diagram is incomplete. So lets go back through, lets fill in some of the blanks and see whats missing.
Well, one of the most important things that is missing is people. Yes, people. People live and work all along this system. And some people in this system matter a little more than others; some have a little more say. Who are they?
Well, lets start with the government. Now my friends tell me I should use a tank to symbolize the government and thats true in many countries and increasingly in our own, afterall more than 50% of our federal tax money is now going to the military, but Im using a person to symbolize the government because I hold true to the vision and values that governments should be of the people, by the people, for the people.

Its the governments job is to watch out for us, to take care of us. Thats their job.
Then along came the corporation. Now, the reason the corporation looks bigger than the government is that the corporation is bigger than the government. Of the 100 largest economies on earth now, 51 are corporations. As the corporations have grown in size and power, weve seen a little change in the government where theyre a little more concerned in making sure everything is working out for those guys than for us.
OK, so lets see what else is missing from this picture


Well start with extraction which is a fancy word for natural resource exploitation which is a fancy word for trashing the planet. What this looks like is we chop down trees, we blow up mountains to get the metals inside, we use up all the water and we wipe out the animals.
So here we are running up against our first limit. Were running out of resources.
We are using too much stuff. Now I know this can be hard to hear, but its the truth and weve gotta deal with it. In the past three decades alone, one-third of the planets natural resources base have been consumed. Gone.

We are cutting and mining and hauling and trashing the place so fast that were undermining the planets very ability for people to live here.
Where I live, in the United States, we have less than 4% of our original forests left. Forty percent of waterways have become undrinkable.
And our problem is not just that were using too much stuff, but were using more than our share.
We [The U.S.] has 5% of the worlds population but were consuming 30% of the worlds resources13 and creating 30% of the worlds waste.
If everybody consumed at U.S. rates, we would need 3 to 5 planets. And you know what? Weve only got one.
So, my countrys response to this limitation is simply to go take someone elses! This is the Third World, which some would say is another word for our stuff that somehow got on someone elses land. So what does that look like?
The same thing: trashing the place.
75% of global fisheries now are fished at or beyond capacity.
80% of the planets original forests are gone.
In the Amazon alone, were losing 2000 trees a minute. That is seven football fields a minute.

And what about the people who live here? Well. According to these guys, they dont own these resources even if theyve been living there for generations, they dont own the means of production and theyre not buying a lot of stuff. And in this system, if you dont own or buy a lot of stuff, you dont have value.


So, next, the materials move to production and what happens there is we use energy to mix toxic chemicals in with the natural resources to make toxic contaminated products.
There are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in commerce today. Only a handful of these have even been tested for human health impacts and NONE of them have been tested for synergistic health impacts, that means when they interact with all the other chemicals were exposed to every day.
So, we dont know the full impact of these toxics on our health and environment of all these toxic chemicals. But we do know one thing: Toxics in, Toxics Out. As long as we keep putting toxics into our production system, we are going to keep getting toxics in the stuff that we bring into our homes, our workplaces, and schools. And, duh, our bodies.

Like BFRs, brominated flame retardants. They are a chemical that make things more fireproof but they are super toxic. Theyre a neurotoxin that means toxic to the brain. What are we even doing using a chemical like this?
Yet we put them in our computers, our appliances, couches, mattresses, even some pillows. In fact, we take our pillows, we douse them in a neurotoxin and then we bring them home and put our heads on them for 8 hours a night to sleep. Now, I dont know, but it seems to me that in this country with so much potential, we could think of a better way to stop our heads from catching on fire at night.
These toxics build up in the food chain and concentrate in our bodies.
Do you know what is the food at the top of the food chain with the highest levels of many toxic con taminants? Human breast milk.
That means that we have reached a point where the smallest members of our societies our babies are getting their highest lifetime dose of toxic chemicals from breastfeeding from their mothers. Is that not an incredible violation? Breastfeeding must be the most fundamental human act of nurturing; it should be sacred and safe. Now breastfeeding is still best and mothers should definitely keep breast feeding, but we should protect it. They [government] should protect it. I thought they were looking out for us.
And of course, the people who bear the biggest brunt of these toxic chemicals are the factory workers, many of whom are women of reproductive age.


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"The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard"

















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