106. The Story Of Stuff: How Our Modern Markets Economy Is Destroying Our Planet

19 important takeaways from this documentary:

00:00:25 Have you ever wondered where all that stuff you buy comes from, and where it goes after you throw it out? Standard economics says that your stuff moves through the materials economy; a linear system of: 

Extraction > Production > Distribution > Consumption > Disposal

The problem with this system is that humans are currently confined to living on Earth, which is a finite planet; and you cannot run a linear system on a finite planet indefinitely. In every step of this linear process, waste is created which diminishes the system’s efficiency, and subsequently, the Earth’s sustainability.

00:01:50 The government’s role and reason for existence is to be ‘of the people, by the people, and for the peole,’ and to protect the citizens which give that government its authority, but over time corporations have become so much larger than the government that the goverment has slowly switched priorities from protecting its citizens to catering to corporations.

Extraction Stage

00:02:45 Extraction – natural resource exploitation – is the mining and stripping of minerals and resources from the planet in the production of goods, thus undermining our very ability to inhabit the earth. 

Production Stage

00:04:50 We then use energy and toxic chemicals to make toxic, contaminated and contaminating products. As of 2007, there were over 100,000 synthetic chemicals used in commerce today. Very few have been tested for their long term impact on humans and the environment, and none of these chemicals have been texted for their synergistic impact – the consequences of all those chemicals interacting.

00:05:20 Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs), for example, are super-toxic, neuro-toxins which have been proven to negatively affect the human brain; yet these BFRs can be found in common, everday household items such as computers, couches, matresses, and even our pillows, which we lay our heads on for at least 8 hours per day.

In addition to these toxins leaving the production process as products, they also leave as by-products – the pollution which clogs our skies and seeps into our oceans, rivers, skin… 

00:06:05 Over time, these toxic chemicals build up within our own bodies. So much so that a mother’s breast milk has been found to be the food with the highest level of toxic contaminants. 

00:06:45 Those who bear the biggest brunt of these toxins are the factory workers who spend 40+ hours per week, many of whom are women of reproductive age, working with and handling these carcinogens. The only sane person who would knowingly expose themself to such harmful toxins is a person who has no other option.

00:07:50 Who wants to look at and live with such chemical pollution? Definitely not the product’s consumers; and brands don’t want their image directly associated with the destruction of their consumer’s plant, which is why businesses choose to move their dirty factories overseas.

Distribution Stage

00:08:15 Distribution is the selling of all the products produced during the previous step, and as quickly as possible by keeping the prices down, keeping the people buying, and keeping the inventory moving.

00:08:37 Cost externalization is the process of cutting costs and recuperating profit through means other than the price made visible to consumers. In fact, at such low prices, you aren’t actually paying for the product. All along this materials economy system other humans unwittingly pitched in so you could purchase the product as such an “unbelievably low price.”

00:10:30 In this linear markets economy, consumer spending is the key holding this entire model together. In this measure, a human’s value is measured primarily by their capability to consume. As of 2007, roughly 1% of all products purchased were still being used six months after the purchase date; meaning 99% of all the materials which are extracted, produced, distributed, and then sold are thrown into the trash within six months of being purchased.

00:11:57 To ramp up the economy following World War Two, retail analyst Victor Lebow created the credence that “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 in an ever-accelerating rate.”

00:12:40 Most consumer goods fall under two life cycles:

  1. Planned obsolescence involves creating products specifically designed for the dump; created with the intention of being useless as quickly as possible whilst leaving the consumer with the belief that they are getting a good deal. Products ranging from plastic bags to take-away coffee cups, DVDs, cameras, computers and smartphones…
  2. Perceived obsolescence involves convincing consumers to discard products which are still perfectly usable. Products ranging from the newest fashion trend to the latest iphone model…

Advertising, branding, and media communications play a huge role in consumer spending and perceived obsolescence. What’s the point of an advertising except to make us unhappy with what we currently have? Media communications also aid in hiding the extraction, production, and distrution parts of the markets economy.

00:16:52 At our current rate of consumption, all the stuff we purchase cannot possibly fit in our homes, so where does it all go? We throw it away.

Disposal Stage

00:17:01 Disposal is one of the most obvious effects of our markets economy because it is us who have to haul our junk out to the sidewalk ourselves. Our disposed waste is then picked up by garbage trucks and dumped at a landfill and/or is burned in an incinerator – which pollutes the environment as all those toxins injected into the product during the production stage are released into the air – and then left in a landfill. All of the disposal options pollute our air and land.

0017:42 Dioxin is the most toxic, man-made environmental pollutant known to science. The incinerators which turn your waste into ash are the number one source for dioxins.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more on where your stuff goes after you throw it out, watch the news report How Your Technological Waste Destroys The Planet & Compromises Your Security.]

00:18:10 Recycling helps reduce the amount of disposed garbage as well as the pressure to extract to create new products, but household recycling doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface and address the core problem:

  1. Household waste is just a very miniscule percentage of the waste created on the planet. 70+ times as much garbage is created during the extraction and production stages to create the product you recycled.
  2. Much of our waste cannot be recycled because it either contains too many toxins or because brands didn’t see the need to create a product which was designed to be recyclable in the first place.

00:19:06 There are people and organizations committed to cleaning up the process at each of the above stages in the markets economy, but all their hard work can only be truly effective once humans, and the government they permit to have authority over them step back, see the big picture and acknowledge that the current system does more damage than good.

00:19:50 It is possible to re-align our markets economy which can replace – or at least diminish – the disposal stage. Sustainability is the process of “enabling the earth to continue supporting human life.” 

[EDITOR’S NOTE: For more interesting information as to the state of the world, read the article The 9 Limits Of Our Planet… And How We’ve Raced Past 4 Of Them by John Carey]

People learn by comparison.

They learn by comparing new things to the things they already know. That’s why redefining a category is much easier than creating a new one.

When you position your product in an existing category you’re essentially saying “it’s like something you already know but better”.

When you try to create a new product category you’re essentially saying “it’s like nothing you’ve ever seen before”.

That’s a provocative statement, but hard to learn by.

Having the courage and determination to focus on one subject or area of expertise gives you the solid foundation that is absolutely necessary if you’re to come up with a truly great idea, one that will be key to your future success.

Hegarty on Creativity by Sir John Hegaty of BBH

Too many creative people think they don’t need to specialize, that they can have lots of ideas in lots of different subjects all of which are going to be great.

Hegarty on Creativity by Sir John Hegaty of BBH