Post contributed by Matt Preisser, Office of Sustainability Intern
There is a lot of stuff in this world. You are probably currently reading this on a computer somewhere, drinking a coffee or munching on a snack, sitting at a table and chair, surrounded by just a lot of things. Where did all of this come from? What was the path that it took to get to be in your possession at this moment?
Maybe you have your lunch next to you, and you decided to use a plastic fork today. Think of that small little fork. You probably bought the fork at the store on the other side of town. That fork had to be shipped from a factory in a different country. Oil had to be extracted and shipped from another part of the world to make the fork.
And once you finish your lunch the fork is going to go straight into the garbage can, to be picked up and sent to a landfill. How did we end up in this situation where all of this work can go into creating an item and then just be sent to the landfill to sit for thousands of years?
Everything has a story behind it, whether we think about it or not. All this stuff does not appear in a store and disappear once we throw it away. Every person in the United States on average produces 4.5 pounds of garbage every day. That means that an average family of 4 will produce over 3 tons of garbage every year. All 3 tons of this garbage we bought for a purpose in our lives, whether it be left over food we don’t want anymore or clothes that are out of style. This stuff has a value even after we replace it with something new. Do we really need to get this new phone after having one for only a year? Do we really need to buy all of this food when half of it will get thrown out? When are we going to start thinking about the waste created from constantly replacing perfectly fine items with new stuff?
The story of all this stuff in our lives is important to consider because of the lasting impact it will have for future generations. The story doesn’t end at the landfill, it only continues from there because for thousands of years it will sit there and continue to pile up as more and more trash is added to the landfill. So before you go shopping again, think about where those items came from, and where they will go. Stuff breaks and needs to be replaced, but it is what we do with the broken stuff that can make a lasting impact on your own future and future generations. You will no longer be bogged down by extra clutter and will have more freedom to invest time and money in other more meaningful areas of your life. We must ask ourselves can we reuse it, recycle it, or repurpose it, before we give up and send it to the landfill.
Most people are of the mindset that they will not make a difference because they are only one person. This ideology needs to change in our society because if we think globally and act locally, we can change society. We can reduce what we are wasting at the same time to reduce the amount of stuff that surrounds us and buries us every day. So the next time you have to go shopping, think about the story of all the stuff in your cart and what your role is in that story. To learn more about these ideas, check out The Story of Stuff.