Annie Leonard and Stuff
Annie Leonard became a celebrity with a little animation, Story of Stuff, later also published as a book, and which has evolved into the Story of Stuff Project, launching a series of short animations on different subjects, such as the newest Story of Electronics. According to Leonard, each year we generate 25 million tons of e-waste and the system needs to change. “No matter how much we try to reduce the amount of waste in our trash can, the largest waste is produced by industry,” she continues. “That’s where social pressure and political action are key. We need laws of productive responsibility for the whole world. 80% of the impact of a product in decided in the design phase.”
Annie loves to dig into trash. “It’s one of my favorite activities when I travel,” she says. “I love to see what people throw away: there’s no better way to get to know a family, a community, a country… We should look more into our own trash cans and see that very little of what we throw away is really disposable.
As a little girl, Annie made her first connection about the story of stuff from seeing chopped down forests in the countryside and cardboard in her trashcan. Then she visited Fresh Kills, the dump island floating outside Manhattan. During 50 years Fresh Kills swallowed more than 11,000 tons daily. “When they shut it down in 2001, the mountain of waste was 25 times taller than the Statue of Liberty,” recalls Annie. “It really impacted me and gave me lots to think about. Who could have conceived this monstruos system? How do we allow for this to continue to happen? I didn’t even begin to understand. It took me 20 years to make the connection.”
She traveled to Bangladesh, India and Haiti, where she completed the story of our stuff, our system. In her book, she makes the connection between the deforestation in the Amazon and Indonesia, the removal of the mountain tops in West Virginia, the tar sands in Alberta, and the disposal of waste in remote places, out of our view.
“I don’t like that they call me anti-consumerist,” says Leonard, “I do want to denounce the effect of hyperconsumism, which happens when we take more resources than what we need and that the planet can sustain. With a 5% of the population, the US consumes 30% of the world’s resources and produces 30% of the waste. One doesn’t have to be a math genius to realize that we would need three to five planets if all 6,800 million Earth inhabitants were to copy the consumerism of the American dream.”
A paradigm shift is needed. “People are changing their relationship to stuff,” continues the author of Story of Stuff. “We don’t need to posses and accumulate things, but simply have access to them: sharing them, reusing them, exchanging them, prolonging their use so that they don’t end up in a landfill… and creating community in the process.”
“There’s a fundamental truth, what we call waste are mostly resources. All of it mixed up is not good for anything. We end up burying them in a landfill, or what’s worse, burning it. If we separate them, we will be able to use them again. That’s why it’s important knowing our own trash, digging into it to see how much we can reuse. It’s a fascinating activity.”