“The Story of Stuff” Book Review

Author: Annie Leonard

Available in: hardcopy, ebook, audiobook

Also available at: https://www.storyofstuff.org 

When talking about environmental protection, we are most likely to think about recycling and maybe save water in the shower. These things are good to do but I have to admit that they are not the most important in environmental protection. They are less significant only because the impact they create is too small. For instance, I saw online one time that the household water usage is only 5% of the overall water consumption, this information might not be the most up to date or accurate, but it does lay an overall picture on the issue. 

The issue is that some drastic changes are required to not even restore earth to its original, primitive conditions, but just to keep the pollution and damage within the safety boundary.

The environment is shaped this way due to various factors, and the government and the companies (who are involved financially) are a bigger factor. To use some of the book contents to back me up: the book talked about planned obsolescence, where the products are made to be not durable or the fads that make people constantly despise their old stuff, is a great way to boost up economy but creates tons of waste; also government and the companies do not want to be responsible for the messes they made (aka pollution), so that results in the unethical dumping of pollution or waste onto less developed lands.

Also as we all know by this time, buying natural and zero-waste products are probably less convenient than regular consumer products. They are less accessible, maybe more expensive. So that implies to the faulty ideas in the process of production where companies would rather earn more profit by using less natural ingredients than to be same and environmental-friendly. 

And it’s not just the earth which takes the damage from humans activities, humans ourselves are actually more susceptible to those damages. As we make the products, the poisonous ingredients are harming the health of the workers; the chemicals added in those products are applied and put in contact with human skins, so we essentially takes in all the toxins; also as we dispose the waste, we either create toxic air by incinerating trashes or let the toxins flow freely underground when we bury them. 

Basically, there is a flaw in every segment of production consumption and disposal, but this is not the end of the world, and it is not too late to act. The author proposed many ways/alternatives to the current situation, but the most effective in my opinion are the following two: EPR (Extended Producer Responsibility) and a change in lifestyle.

EPR is mentioned over and over in the book, it basically says that it is the companies responsibility to recycle the waste of their products. EPR will help the companies to prioritize products’ sustainability and durability, and also find better ways to recycle specific items. 

And about the change in life-style, the author devoted a whole chapter to depict an “utopian” community. I used the word “utopian” with a positive connotation, when people are not slaves to the desire to consume unnecessary stuff, also where people are in a reciprocatory relationship that you are not simply exchanging favors but contributing to the overall well-being in the society, as well as believing in human kindness. This way products/stuff are not the only way to fulfill one’s life, and at the same time, community provides the opportunity for easy corporations like carpooling (reduce emission) or borrowing tools (so that unnecessary purchases are not made). And in a way, this can be an extended form of minimalist, where people just own what is essential to their lives. In addition to that, community and friends can make up for what you might be lacking. 

Overall, this book is full of information and realization, it definitely provides a broader perspective for environmental protection. Also, it highlights the real struggle that this industry is facing. It covers a lot more than what I talked about in this article, so it’s worth reading, multiple times. If you have not read this book, it might be a good idea to try it out. One thing to keep in mind when reading is that, this book was published almost 10 years ago, so some of the policies are not applicable anymore. But it is a great guide if you are just beginning to be concerned about the environment, it provides so much insight that we can dig deeper into. 

Picture from: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/9GorqroigqM/maxresdefault.jpg

Wenqian Li