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In 2007, activist Annie Leonard wrote and narrated the animated mini-documentary called “The Story of Stuff” about the life-cycle of material goods. The documentary explains the environmental and social issues surrounding our over-consumption of “stuff” and how this cycle of consumption and disposal can’t be sustained indefinitely.

The documentary covers issues that I think about both as an environmentalist and a professional organizer, the film helped raise my sensitivity to the disposable nature of my belongings. I remember my grandfather wore the same sweaters for years, and my grandparents watched a television that was over 15-years old. The film made me wonder why we don’t buy things to last for YEARS anymore? Why aren’t things made to last? Today, it seems that we buy things to fulfill whatever our need is for that particular moment. Once the moment passes, the item is disposed and nobody thinks about where it goes. Only to be hit by the next moment and our need to consume more. Again and again, the cycle continues.

What’s most concerning is electronic waste. Nobody wants an old-generation iPod and who cares where it goes anyway? With our amazing technological advances in the last decade, we have more electronic waste now than ever before, and the number of recyclers of discarded computers, monitors, printers and cell phones has exploded in North America. Unfortunately, many of these “recyclers” are hiding under the “recycling” name and illegally shipping e-waste to developing countries.

The dirty secret is that our electronic waste (e-waste) is exported to China, India or Africa. Developing countries have become the junk yard for the United States. The 20-minute PBS Frontline Documentary “Digital Dumping Ground”, documents the rampant dumping of toxic waste.

Luckily there are groups such as the Basel Action Network (BAN). Created in 1994, BAN has a list of “e-Steward” qualified electronics recyclers— a group of industry leaders that have 4 key principles:

  1. No dumping of toxic e-waste in developing countries

  2. No dumping in local landfills or incinerators (including waste-to-energy operations)

  3. No use of prison labor to process e-waste

  4. No unauthorized release of private data

From bottled water to computer monitors, it’s important to think about the life-span of your belongings. It’s important to purchase things that serve a purpose in your life; buy items that are going to last longer than a moment; and be conscious of how your “stuff” is disposed. Ask yourself: Can someone else benefit from your unwanted items? If so, donate your unused electronics to a local charity, school, or shelter. The idea is to flow your unused items back into the community. Ten years ago, the average lifespan of a computer was six years. Today it’s two years. Is “being on the cutting edge of technology” worth it?

The solution is three-fold:

Thoughtful consumption; reuse; and eco-friendly recycling.

These are the simple mantras we CAN and SHOULD be religiously practicing in our daily lives.

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