My Beloved Stuff

Part 1 – “The Story of Stuff” Series

I was so impacted when I read the”Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard, both fascinated and horrified, I wrote a 7 part series about all it entails.  First materials are extracted to make the product, then it is produced, then marketed, then delivered, then it enters our homes taking a prominent position, then shifted around the house, and is eventually thrown into the garbage.  At least some of us change that trajectory a bit when we Reduce, Reuse and Recycle!    Here is the first article –

Seems I always call myself a minimalist but as I look around I realize, who do I think I am kidding?  My stuff is everywhere – tons of it!  We even have our “box room” where we store excess stuff, stuff we just might need someday. And it seems we are always busy taking care of our stuff.

I’m fortunate, since I have very few “wants”, I can more easily buy what I “need”.  My box room, closets and drawers are stuffed with stuff.  Although I imagine the assault of advertisers influences me more than I realize, I focus my spending on things I truly value – healthy food and travel.  I certainly don’t want more stuff to clean, sort, fix and shuffle around. It takes way too much time!

I still have my weaknesses.  When I feel crowded with stuff, I donate boxes of stuff to a worthy cause.  Once there, since it’s a good cause, I end up exploring and buying more stuff, stuff I don’t “need”.  Then when my closet feels crowded, I donate again.  Yeah, I have a revolving closet!  Don’t let my love of hoodies fool you – I have lots of clothes.

I recently read “The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard and now see stuff in an entirely new way.  The author goes into great detail about the natural resources, energy and social costs associated with our stuff – Extraction, Production, Distribution, Consumption and Disposing – our Stuff’s Lifespan. Fortunately a lot of my stuff is second –hand so it isn’t made from virgin materials, but has become quite obvious, I’m still over-indulgent.

Annie Leonard wrote about the constant motion and expansion of “Jumbo” ships, many longer than three football fields, coming from China, India and other places in Asia.  These ships consume millions of tons of fuel per year spewing huge amounts of carbon.  In search of the buck, US businesses more frequently outsource manufacturing jobs overseas due to cheap labor costs, with minimal or no labor and environmental regulations. To add to the insult, many times US businesses ship components across the ocean to make gadgets that are then shipped back to us!  I’ve found if I’m not shopping at a small local store, almost all product labels say “Made in China”. Seems the advertisers cry to buy “Made in the USA” has dropped from their vocabulary.

How did we get so crowded with Stuff?  More to come.

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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Winter Solstice

Since early times, people have observed the Suns path across the sky. The Stonehenge and other monuments were created to follow its progress. Today we understand it as an astronomical event.

Two solstices (“sun stands still”) occur per year.  During these solstices (around December 22nd and June 21st), the sun appears to halt and change directions, although it’s actually due to the rotation of the Earth on its tilted axis circling the sun.  In the Northern hemisphere, we experience our shortest day during the winter solstice, whereas the Southern hemisphere experiences their longest day.  During the Spring and Fall Equinox (around March 21st and September 23rd), the earth’s equator passes the center of the Sun, so the day and nights are approximately the same all over the world. Our changing seasons are due to the Earth’s tilted momentum around the Sun.

During our winter solstice the North Pole is tilted the furthest (23.5 degrees) away from the sun.  At this angle, the Sun appears to travel across the sky in a low arc resulting in our longest noontime shadows of the year.  While we are now losing approximately one minute of daylight per day, after December 21st, we will start gaining those minutes back.

Prior to science study, imagine the fear when it appeared the Sun was slowly fading away; then all the excitement when it grew brighter once again. Many spiritual and cultural traditions were formed to celebrate this seasonal milestone, many world-wide ancient traditions continuing today.

Over the centuries, we have tracked time using various devices from the sundial relying on shadows to our current atomic clock system, calibrated by the astronomical time scale.  Then we started adjusting the clock a bit with Day Light Savings Time (DST), which ended last month.  Overnight, we lost another sixty minutes of evening light when we set our clocks back. DST was first implemented by Germany in an effort to save coal during World War I.  Soon other countries followed suit. After the war, many countries reverted back to standard time until World War II.  In the United States, DST was extended to a period of ten months in 1974 and eight months in 1975 in an effort to save energy following the 1973 oil embargo.  Introduced through the 2005 Energy Policy Act, DST is now observed for about seven months each year starting on the second Sunday in March and ending on the first Sunday in November.  I apparently have to leave my clock alone for now.  I’m so glad the winter solstice is here! More daylight minutes will slowly grow into hours!

Single Use Plastic Water Bottles

In the early 1960s high-density polyethylene was introduced making plastic bottles inexpensive to produce.  By the early 1970s the food industry replaced glass with plastic – lighter & cheaper.  In the mid 70s, beverage containers became the fastest growing component of solid waste.  Reusable beverage containers required extra labor and valuable space so grocery stores welcomed disposables.   A private-to-social cost shift occurred.  Instead of the industry, now the consumer, municipal refuse collection and environment dealt with the waste.   Although deposit laws reduce litter & beverage container consumption, save energy, increase jobs and stabilize prices, they are difficult to pass and keep due to beverage and retail industries lobby efforts.  While Columbia, MO had a deposit law in place 1982-2002, the industry finally succeeded in repealing the law after 5 attempts.

The Pacific Institute reports in 2006, “producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation; Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide; It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water”.  Widely quoted – the US consumes over 50 billion single serve bottles of water a year – 95,000 per minute!  If an ambitious 23% of those are recycled, still over 38 billion bottles end up in the landfill or litter our streets, parks and waterways.    Once in the landfills, they slowly release toxic chemicals that leak into our water system.  Bottom line – Plastic is a non-renewable resource, it is energy and resource intensive to produce, highly toxic and takes 700+ years to biodegrade.

These disposables keep growing and growing.  Among other swirling pools, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is now roughly the size of Texas with churning plastic bottles, plastic bags and Styrofoam.  These growing piles of plastic garbage have a devastating effect on sea life, threaten our wildlife and natural areas, and make our world less beautiful and healthy.

As though that isn’t enough – The Sierra Club reports the bottled water industry led by Nestle’, Coca Cola and Pepsi Cola are aggressively taping natural springs and aquifers, which can lead to depletion in wetlands, lakes and wells.  40% of bottled water usually comes from municipal tap water such as Coke’s Dasani and Pepsi’s Aquafina brands.  They are commoditizing our access to safe and affordable water.

The marketers of bottled water have convinced the public that their water is cleaner, tastier and healthier than tap water.  It’s no wonder they are pursuing groundwater and distribution rights wherever they can.  They are making a fortune!  Consumers are willing to pay 1000-5000 times more for the privilege of drinking bottled water instead of tap water.

Is bottled water healthier?  Water is most frequently bottled in #1 PET or PETE bottles (polyethylene terephthalate).  Experts say those bottles shouldn’t be re-used since they may leach DEHP, a probable human carcinogen.  Bottled water is regulated by the FDA which has lower standards and inspects less frequently than the EPA regulations for tap water.  And the FDA doesn’t test any waters packaged and sold within a single state – 60-70% of all bottled water.

Sound overwhelming??  Remember – we are the consumers so we have some say!

Don’t buy single-use disposable water bottles!!  When home, use glass to avoid all possible plastic chemicals.  For water on the go, use stainless steel or a PBA free water bottles.

Filtered water – Use a filter pitcher, install a faucet-filter, or buy a bottle with a built-in filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria.  Under the sink osmosis filters are effective and convenient.

Entertaining – Get out the water jug!  Purchase a stash of reusable plastic glasses (safest plastics are marked on the bottom 2, 4, or 5) from thrift stores or #1 plastic cups that can be recycled.  Also use eco-friendly plant starch cutlery and biodegradable paper plates.

Recycle – Products made from recycled plastics are endless – Deck Lumber, park benches, fabric, clothes, carpet, and recycled art.  Plastic bridges are being built throughout the US.  Peeblesshire, Scotland has a 30 meter long bridge made entirely out of waste plastic products.

Join the Sierra Club and other organizations that fight for environmental causes & make your Votes count.

Pick up litter – Recycle what is fairly clean.

Good News – The Grand Canyon has banned the sale of single-use plastic water bottles due to the threat to wildlife and to reduce waste. Other National Parks are installing water filling stations so visitors can fill their water bottles. Concord, Massachusetts recently banned single-use beverage bottles and Chicago instituted a 5 cent tax per bottle.

Progress is being made – Be a part of that change!  Speak up; spend your dollars wisely.

Imagine Zero Waste

Seems we are always encouraged to consume.   Things wear out quicker, styles constantly change and single use and disposable items are heavily marketed.   As I see our population increase and hungrily consume at such a rapid pace, I wonder what will be left for future generations.  Capitalism is based on consumption, so how can we keep consuming without running out of resources?  How about consuming waste?  We have plenty of that!  Imagine Zero Waste.

Zero waste isn’t a new concept.  The movement gained momentum 1998-2002. Visionaries are busy researching how to put theory into action.  This concept is thoroughly explored by William McDonough & Michael Braungart in “Cradle to Cradle” and “The Upcycle”.  They say “waste is simply poor design”.

While Industry has improved our lives making it cleaner and more convenient, its infrastructure is linear – they make the product, get it to us as quickly & cheaply as possible, rely on an endless supply of resources, rely on us consuming; then waste pollutes our environment, goes into landfills and their potential is lost.

When we are “eco-efficient”, we consume less and recycle.  While these strategies save our natural resources, the mindset is based on scarcity and guilt with the environment and industry pitted against each other.  With an “eco-effective” model, industry and the environment work together and eliminate waste by design.  We become a world of abundance!

For this to work, first we need to eliminate some synthetics that are too toxic to reuse.  Then we can use and reuse biological and technical products. Biological – Imagine if packaging (50% of our solid waste) was designed as a nutrient that enhanced the soil and factory water byproducts were clean enough to drink.  Technical cycle – Imagine instead of buying products, we purchased the service of a product.  When finished, the manufacturer would replace it, and reuse the material from the old product.  We can indulge guilt-free, industry saves money by reusing valuable materials and uses less raw materials.  These same concepts can be applied to urban planning, buildings, food production, energy and transportation systems.

The authors see the first critical steps as rebuilding our soil, converting to renewable energy, and to stop introducing unknown chemicals and materials.  We have the technology and intellectual capacity to accomplish this!  With visionaries like these, ecological and economic sustainability is possible.  That’s encouraging!  But for now, we’ll Reduce, Reuse & Recycle!