The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health—and a Vision for Change

One day Annie Leonard found herself standing beside a mountain of garbage so large that it was rumored to be “the largest man-made structure on the planet,” and she realized the our obsession with acquiring stuff was taking a terrible toll. She says, “I stood at its edge in absolute awe. As far as I could see in every direction were trashed couches, appliances, cardboard boxes, apple cores, clothes, plastic bags, books and other Stuff.” From there Leonard started her quest to save the planet from stuff, eventually making a short film and then writing The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health—and a Vision for Change.

Leonard’s book uses conversational language to explain how our excessive collecting of stuff is depleting resources and harming every living thing on earth. She covers the extraction of materials for stuff and the production, distribution, consumption, and disposal of stuff. When considering the lifecycle of a product, its cost in resources is often astounding. For example, Leonard says that growing enough cotton for one t-shirt uses 256 gallons of water. This seems pretty wasteful when “only about 1 percent of the world’s water is accessible for direct human use.” The rest is salt water, frozen in ice caps or deep underground.

In fact, Leonard says, “Put simply, if we do not redirect our extraction and production systems and change the way we distribute, consume, and dispose of our Stuff…the economy as it is will kill the planet.”

However, Leonard’s book isn’t all bad news. She provides data to show that we may become happier by consuming less, and she also tells us how.

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