What can we learn from garbage and what is the true cost of all our stuff? Annie Leonard has visited hundreds of factories all over the world where stuff is made and hundreds of dumps where it is dumped.  In her powerful film ‘The Story of Stuff,’ she looks at the real impact of our passion for material goods.

Annie Leonard has spent nearly two decades investigating environmental health and justice issues. When she uploaded to YouTube her entertaining film ‘The Story of  Stuff’  – an expose of the hidden costs of our systems of  production and consumption –  it quickly generated over 7 million viewings in over 220 countries.

‘It’s true that the film can be unsettling and scary but the truth is that the environmental situation is scary. And we should be unsettled. We need to be unsettled. If we continue on this current path of just plundering the planet, that’s even more scary. We’re right now using globally one and a half planets’ worth of resources each year. We only have one planet. You cannot use one and a half planets’ worth of resources indefinitely,’ she says.

Leonard says she found her life’s calling while looking at the Staten Island landfill when she was a student. ‘I stood at the edge of this landfill and I looked out in all directions - as far as I could see was waste. Appliances, food, books, shoes, it was just a horrible tragedy, a horrible waste. I had grown up to think you don’t waste. One doesn’t waste. It’s dumb to waste stuff. And I just kept thinking this is really wrong and how can we run an economy based on that level and speed of trashing materials and I also wondered why no one was talking about this.’

‘What I saw in all my travels was that all of the stuff in our lives, our electronics, our clothing, our appliances, our furniture, our cars, everything has enormous hidden environmental, social and health impacts before it gets to us and after it leaves us as well as while we have it, and most of those impacts are hidden from view so I wanted to make those visible.’ she says.

After working for 10 years as an activist for Greenpeace, Annie Leonard began to focus on transforming our industrial and economic systems and their harmful environmental and social impact. She believes change is inevitable, if not by design then by default, but she says her real optimism comes from people.

‘Everywhere I go I see people who care, whether it’s scientists who are developing new products down to the molecular level so they are inherently not toxic. That’s exciting. New architects are coming up with all kinds of green buildings so they can be climate neutral without all this energy for heating and cooling. . . Across the spectrum politically, environmentally, ecologically in every way there are people all over this planet doing amazing things to turn things around. And with so many people caring there’s no way we can’t do it.’

Annie Leonard was talking in ‘Conversations’ at Penn State University.

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