The Story of Stuff

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“The Story of Stuff”

All our stuff goes through a process in the materials economy: extraction, production, distribution, consumption, and disposal. It sounds so simple but there are a lot of loopholes in between each step goes through.

The first stage is extraction. Extraction means taking the planet’s resources – wood, minerals, coal, fossil fuel, water, plants, animals, and soil out of the earth and starting their journey through the materials economy. The problem here is simple: we are using too much stuff, the processes by which we extract all that stuff cause more damage and we are not sharing the stuff equitably. We are trashing the planet. We are using and wasting more resources each year than the earth can renew. And on top of using too much, the processes we use to extract all that stuff like clear cutting forests, mountain top removal mining, bottom trawling fishing and others further damage ecosystems, change the climate wipe out species, use up water and create pollution.

Extractive industries are linked to wide ranging health problems resulting from pollution, water, degradation and toxic associated with the extractive processes. In mining, oil and gas sites, residents report increased asthma, respiratory and cardiovascular illnesses, autoimmune diseases, liver failure, cancer and other aliments.

Workers are getting trashed too. Workers in extractive industries bear a disproportionate burden of health and safety threats. Mining, for example, accounts for only 0.4% of the global workforce, but is responsible for over 3% of fatal accidents at work - about 11,000 per year, about 30 each day. Forestry is among the three most dangerous occupations in most countries.

In a globalized economy, the risks of extractive industries are disproportionately borne by communities in developing countries while the rewards consistently accrue to the corporations and consumers in the wealthier countries.

The second stage is production. In the production stage, we use energy to add toxic chemicals to the natural resources to make toxic products. Our industrial production systems use vast amount of natural resources, water, energy, and chemical compounds to chum out pollution, worker and community, health problems and products, many of which contain toxics known to be harmful to human health and the environment.

Industrial production systems create wide ranging environmental problems, including climate change, water depletion, waste and toxic pollution. Today’s industry relies on a toxic brew of synthetic chemicals which end up both products and released as pollution. In the United States, industry admits to releasing over 4 billion pounds of toxic chemicals a year.

As long as we use toxic in our production systems, we’ll keep getting toxics in our air, water, food, and of course… our stuff. These toxic enter our homes, schools, workplaces and bodies through pollution and consumer products. Toxics, which cause a range of illnesses from cancer to disruption of our neurological and hormonal systems, are so prevalent that they are routinely found in every body tested, even new born babies.

The people who bear the biggest brunt of these toxic chemicals are no other than the factory workers, many of whom are women of reproductive age working with reproductive toxics, neurotoxins, carcinogens and more. Protecting people in the workplace is a fundamental responsibility of companies and governments, yet workers are routinely exposed to toxic chemicals in the manufacture of everyday consumer stuff.

Because the government wants to lessen pollution in their own country, they decide to move their production factories in other countries, most of them are third world countries, in search of less stringent environmental regulations which causes worker rights and salaries to lower and to weaken public access to information and opposition. But much of these toxics travel right...
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