The Story of Stuff, Continued

I mentioned this great film in a previous post, but thought I would elaborate, since the New York Times is on the bandwagon now:

The Story of Stuff is just what it sounds like: it follows our belongings through the five basic steps of extraction, production, distribution, consumption and disposal.  So, for a newspaper, tree, paper plant, warehouse, newsstand, garbage can.  But newspapers are fairly simple, requiring only pulp and pigment.  What about a computer or a couch?  There are many of those being purchased and thrown away every day, too.  This video takes a hard look at some of the things we allow to happen on the earth that is our home.

I hope you'll all watch it, just like I hoped all my students would watch it -- not because I agree with everything Leonard says.  She's an unabashed activist with views far more radical than my own.  However, I support her anger.  Whenever I pick up trash off my street or break down and order a salad at Chick-Fil-A, I am appalled at the lack of foresight our culture exhibits.  We use it up and spit it out and repeat this process at a dizzying rate.

Here are a couple of facts from the film that I found pretty shattering:

  • One percent of the materials and goods we use and buy are still in use six months later.  Juuuuust one.  For example, 20 tons of mining waste are created to mine the gold in one gold ring.

  • The top-of-the-chain food with the highest percentage of toxic chemicals?  Human breast milk.  This sounds shocking until you read what my cousins recently discovered: because credit card receipts containing BPA are recyclable, it can be found in all sorts of paper products, including toilet tissue.  Toxics in, toxics out.

  • Recycling, while helpful, will never be enough to "fix" the system: for every can of garbage we throw out or recycle, 70 cans of materials were used to make it.

  • Our national economy peaked in the 1950s, about the same time economists began experimenting with the ideas of planned obsolescence (making things break so we'll buy new ones) and perceived obsolescence (making things seem outdated so we'll buy new ones.)

So, like I said, watch it.  Then download the annotated script and check her references.  Even if you don't agree with everything she says (like I said, I don't) I hope it will get you thinking.  That's the point.