Do you own your stuff or does your stuff own you?
After 20 years of investigating how stuff is made, used and tossed, Annie Leonard, from the Story of Stuff program, had a new appreciation for stuff.
Stuff in our society is a status symbol and is considered widely disposable. Leonard told the audience of students, faculty and community members at King Concert Hall how her life led to an obsession with stuff.
Too much stuff
Leonard grew up in Washington state and went to college in New York City for forestry activism. While in New York she discovered just how much stuff is tossed to the curb. This new obsession took her around the world to 40 countries to tour factories and dump sites.
"There are three problems," Leonard explained. "One, we are trashing the planet. Two, we are trashing each other. And three, we aren't even having fun."
Leonard's first point is simply that we are using too much; too many resources to make stuff.
OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino
Annie Leonard, founder of the Story of Stuff film series, visited SUNY Fredonia Tuesday as part of its Sustainability Series. Leonard emphasized using less and advocating for change in policy.
Her second point has to do with toxins, which are in food, personal care items and furniture, and which accumulate in our bodies.
Many people look for a solution by asking what they can buy differently.
"We cannot shop our way out of this problem, we need stronger regulations to make a new default," she said.
She also explained that the U.S. is trashing others by consuming more than our share. Many countries should consume less so that others can consume more (things like food).
Her third point is about happiness. According to Leonard, studies show that happiness started to decline in the 1950s, coincidentally when campaigns for stuff started to be aimed at consumers.
The studies show that working to shop for more stuff keeps people from what actually makes people happy; social relationships and meaning in one's life.
Leonard related stories of her friends from college who took the path of stuff and compared them to "bonded laborers," indebted to their stuff through mortgages, etc.
Leonard offered many solutions to the problems. She pointed out two top priorities, PVC plastic and disposable stuff.
SUNY Fredonia students are currently petitioning for a PVC-free campus to be signed online at sustainablefredonia.wordpress.com.
In the case of disposable items, Leonard singled out styrofoam dishes.
"I am staying at the Clarion Hotel and I went to my breakfast buffet this morning and I was shocked to see styrofoam everywhere. I looked in the trash, like I always do, and it was full of styrofoam ... I asked the manager for a reusable plate and she said no ... I finally got my plate but I was shocked, haven't they seen the news in the last 30 years? It was like being back in the '80s," Leonard said.
To object to the use of styrofoam plates, call the Clarion at 366-8350.
"I'm not asking people to go without and be martyrs, just to stop using disposable stuff and screen products for toxic chemicals," Leonard explained.
Leonard said that there are many ways to get involved, but to look for something that is fun.
She also suggested not to nag friends and family if they are not receptive to the message of cutting back on stuff.
"Don't nag people because you can focus that energy on changing the default. Don't swim upstream, change the current, change the rules," Leonard added.
When asked what is the most important thing that one person can do Leonard said, "develop a sense of sufficiency, reduce consumption."
She also encouraged individuals to stand up because movements start with "one person with passion or just one idea."
Annie Leonard was brought to the Fredonia campus for the Sustainability series and Earth week events.
Many more events with a green, sustainability theme will be featured on campus for students and the community. To see a schedule of events go to www.fredonia.edu/sustainability.
To watch the Story of Stuff videos for free, look up teaching materials or order books or DVDs go to www.storyofstuff.com.