January 17, 2008


Guess what percentage of 'total material flow' in the 'consumer system' is still in product or use 6 months after their sale in North America. Fifty percent? Twenty? NO. One percent. One! In other words, 99 percent of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport—99 percent of the stuff we run through this system is trashed within 6 months. Now how can we run a planet with that rate of materials throughput?

It wasn’t always like this.

The average U.S. person now consumes twice as much as they did 50 years ago. Ask your grandma. In her day, stewardship and resourcefulness and thrift were valued. So, how did this happen? Well, it didn’t just happen. It was designed.

Shortly after the World War 2, these guys were figuring out how to ramp up the [U.S.] economy. Retailing analyst Victor Lebow articulated the solution that has become the norm for the whole system. He said: “Our enormously productive economy . . . demands that we make consumption our way of life, that we convert the buying and use of goods into rituals, that we seek our spiritual satisfaction, our ego satisfaction, in consumption . . . we need things consumed, burned up, replaced and discarded at an ever-accelerating rate.”

The Story of Stuff

Check it out, and spend the time watching the video. I would love to read any comments.


Steve S. said...

I am grateful for the areas of my life that I have already disentangled from some of these unneeded complexities, however, simplicity is something that I could use more of...

1% ...that sure is a troubling number!

Especially when you could just as easily argue in favor of a simple life on the grounds of personal satisfaction, without ever even touching on the 'sky-is-falling' argument. Although, it is just as compelling of a reason!

We made the switch to cloth diapers for our third child, although I must give my wife the credit ( I very rarely do the washing-dirty-diapers duties...). I ride my bike and public transportation quite a bit. But there are still ways that I would like to change our habits. The sheer volume of stuff that we own is amazing.

DeMar said...

The 1% deal...
from Paul Hawken, Natural Capitalism, (1999:81)
“In short, the whole concept of industry’s dependence on ever faster once-through flow of materials from depletion to pollution is turning from a hallmark of progress into a nagging signal of uncompetitiveness. It’s dismaying enough that compared with their theoretical potential, even the most energy-efficient countries are only a few percent energy-efficient. It’s even worse that only one percent of the total North American materials flow ends up in , and is still being used within, products six months after their sale. That roughly one percent materials efficiency is looking more and more like a vast business opportunity. But this opportunity extends far beyond just recycling bottles and paper, for it involves nothing less than the fundamental redesign of industrial production and the myriad uses for its products. The next business frontier is rethinking everything we consume; what is does, where it comes from, where it goes, and how we can keep on getting its service from a net flow of very nearly nothing at all – but ideas.”

This statement is not saying that 99 percent of the stuff we buy is trashed. Think beyond your household to the upstream waste created in the extraction, production, packaging, transportation and selling of all the stuff you bought. For example, the No Dirty Gold campaign explains that there is 79 tons of mining waste for every one ton of gold produced; that translates into about 20 tons of mine waste created to make one gold wedding ring.