The Cost of Stuff

Part 2 – “The Story of Stuff” Series

While shopping, we constantly weigh our options, checking the price-tag. After reading “The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard, I now realize that price-tag figure is only part of the cost.  Annie has spent a lifetime researching garbage.  She has traveled all around the world researching, participated in community organizing missions and lived with families in various impoverished countries.  Through her studies she has learned about toxics, chemistry, environmental health and racism, international trade agreements and the influence of corporations on governmental regulations, planned obsolescence, and advertising that promote consumerism.  She is a systems thinker, everything exists as part of a larger system; everything is connected.

Annie goes into great detail discussing all the processes needed to keep our store shelves filled so our ingrained insatiable appetites for “cheap” Stuff are quickly met.  When we baby boomers pause a bit, we recall a less consumer driven, more simple life.  As for the younger generation, over-consuming with access to ample credit cards is the norm.

Extraction – There is a great environmental cost to mining virgin materials to create our stuff.  Our rainforests, forests, wildlife and water sources have taken a major hit.  It is energy and water intensive to extract goods, leaving toxic byproducts behind. Many wars are fueled by the fight for natural resources including gold and diamonds to make jewelry, coltan to produce all our electronics, and petroleum to make plastics, pharmaceuticals, fertilizers, tires, household cleaners, and oil.

Our natural resources and Earth is finite, with only a specific amount of land, water, air, minerals and resources available. The world population is at 7.3 billion now with projections to grow another one billion over the next twelve years, and there are many impoverished countries that “need” more Stuff.  If we continue this trajectory, we will hit the Wall.

Production – Turning these raw materials into products is also energy and water intensive and leaves toxic byproducts damaging the environment and health of surrounding neighborhoods. It takes 700 gallons of water to make just one new t-shirt!  Now thousands of unevaluated, potentially toxic chemicals are used to produce synthetic materials. Production workers and surrounding neighborhoods take the brunt of the risk as we have very limited understanding of the health implications.

Forward thinking companies have seen the economic value of more environmentally friendly processes.  If extraction and production practices don’t produce toxic water, they can reuse it and recycling materials into products costs less than harvesting new materials.  If manufacturers were held accountable for the associated environmental, social and health costs, more sound practices would naturally fall into place.  They have the ability to produce products more durable (last longer), repairable (producing jobs), recyclable (degrade less quickly), and adaptable (easily updated).

The Story of Stuff Series

Part I – “My Beloved Stuff”

Part 2 – “The Costs of Stuff”

Part 3 – “Bring on the Stuff”

Part 4 – “Stuff Build-Up”

Part 5 – “Stuff Becomes Trash”

Part 6 – “Consumer Treadmill Pause”

Part 7 – “Healthier Consumer Practices”

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