The story of stuff

CC-by-sa & dilemma

Verónica Alfaro

Media Ethics / Summer semester 2014


Story of stuff is a web documental by Anine Leonard released in 2007. The main questions in discussion are: Where do products come from, and where do they go when people throw them away? Why people get an obsession with products, it doesn’t matter if they really need them?

Every product follow a system called “The material’s economy”:

1.      Extraction

2.      Production

3.      Distribution

4.      Consumption

5.      Disposal

But in fact, this is not the whole story about products, there are other steps in the system, which anyone talk about, and that is because this is a system that is actually in crisis. The system has a beginning and an end, and that doesn’t happen in real life, because all the steps in the process have to interact with societies, economies, cultures and environments.

There are three elements missing in the actual cycle:

a)      People: people life all around the system, and affect how the steps in the system interact with the others.

b)      Government: is supposed to take care of people who life in their countries, their wellbeing and the jobs, but instead of doing this, they are more worried about taking care of big corporation

c)       Corporation: Is bigger than the government and is always looking forward to increase the amount of money that they have.

With these three new elements, the steps in the system have a completely new structure:

Extraction: Extraction is a fancy name to say natural resources exploitation, and at the same time for trashing the planet. The planet is running out of resources because people are using too much stuff.

The “first world “countries are using more resources and producing more waste than what they can afford, so they have to take advantage of the countries of the “third world”, and for the people of the government, the people who live in this countries don’t own their resources, so the big countries can use them and destroy the natural resources of the small countries.

In this system, if people don’t have and buy a lot of stuff, they don’t have the same value as people who do have more purchasing power.

Production:  Mixture of toxic chemicals and natural resources to make toxic contaminated products, which people bring to their houses and live with the products, uses them in their common life and eventually the body will absorb all the toxic substances.

The government should be taking care of people’s health, but instead they are supporting the big corporations to add toxic substances to the products, and causing health problems to people, even babies that are breastfeeding from their mothers, who have been under the effect of the chemicals that are in the products.

The people who are most exposed to the chemicals, are the ones that works in production industries,  and the problem in this case is that women in their reproductive years have to work there, exposing their bodies to chemicals that will be dangerous for them and the future babies that they plan to have.

The problems is that the people who work in this industries, are the one that doesn’t have other options, most of them have moved from small towns to big cities, to live in slums and work in factories, because the system is destroying the work opportunities that they used to have in their towns.

The rest of the toxic chemicals that doesn’t get into products are turned into pollution, so the big countries decide to move the big factories to small countries, so they can contaminate the other countries, and their habitants don’t get that much contamination and toxics.

Distribution: the main goal of distribution process is to keep the prices down, the people buying and maintain the inventory moving.

The question is how does the industry keep the prices down? , people who are losing their natural resources, people who is getting all the pollution into the air, people who are getting bad salaries and none health insurance, are the ones that are actually paying for the products that are being sale in stores, that means that the companies externalize the real cost of production.

Consumption: Consumption is the golden step in the process; the government is making its best effort to maintain people buying products.

The process of consumption have been designed during the years, as away to keep the economy of countries moving, so that people buy new products, use them for a short amount of time, throw them away, and then buy the same product again, and then make a cycle of this process.

With the economical theory of consumerism, the main goal of the government have become to produce more consumer goods, instead of bring health care, education, safe transportation or justice.

The companies planed two strategies to make people part of this process: Planned obsolescence, which mean that products are designed to brake as soon as possible and perceived obsolescence which means that when there is not possible to shorten the useful life of a product, the companies convince people to throw away products that are perfectly useful, just because of how they look like, so people will be embarrassed of having an old product in their hands.

Advertisements and media play a fundamental roll in this step of the process, because that is the way that companies make people unhappy with the products that they have, and that way they will have to buy new products to fit in the system.

Also media helps to hide the truth about the process, so people never find out what is really going on with the products that they buy, nobody will notice that the big countries are taking natural resources from other smaller countries, and smashing their economy.

Nowadays people have more stuff, but they don’t have time to enjoy them, as to spend time with family and friends, there is important for people to work really hard, so that they can earn a lot of money, and buy more stuff, that they won’t be able to enjoy.

Disposal: The goods that people buy end up in the trash, which contaminate water, air and land, and people use to believe that if they recycle come of the trash, the problem will be solved, which is not true, because the amount of trash that is produced by making the stuff that they buy, is the real problem.

In summary the whole system is in crisis, but there are a lot of points of intervention, so people can work in each part of the process to try to reduce the damage that is being made to the environment, if people created this system in crisis, people can also create a new system that doesn’t destroy the planet.