Perhaps you’ve seen some of the videos from the Story of Stuff Project, a nonprofit organization committed to informing the public and coming up with innovative ideas to address all the stuff we buy and then throw away. What initially began as a video made in 2007 by Annie Leonard and Free Range Studios, the Story of Stuff Project has grown to produce more videos and create projects to address our problem of producing too much waste.
I remember watching the first Story of Stuff video back in high school and loved the delivery. Annie Leonard, the Executive Director of Greenpeace USA (as of 2014), does an excellent job presenting our problem of too much stuff in a way that audiences of all ages and backgrounds can understand. Free Range Studios added adorable animations that add to the message of consuming less and finding innovative ways to get others involved with this green mindset.
Since 2007, the Story of Stuff Project and Free Range Studios have created more videos, “The Story of ____,” and include topics like electronics and makeup. (The makeup video is the reason why I don’t use Herbal Essences anymore! Curious as to what I mean? Go check out the “Story of Makeup” on their YouTube channel right now!) Recently, I watched the video “The Story of Solutions” and I fell in love with one of the case studies presented.
In short, “The Story of Solutions” says that instead of working for a future of “More,” such as more money being spent to produce more goods, we should channel our energy into working toward a future for “Better,” such as better education and better health. Therefore, we need to change the steps we take to accomplish a goal. Annie Leonard gives a great example. Let’s say you have to options for addressing plastic waste, like plastic bottles and plastic bags. One company offers financial incentive (such as a gift card) for bringing your plastic bags and plastic bottles to them to be recycled. On the other hand, an advocacy group has the mindset of choosing BYOB – bring your own bag (and also bring your own water bottle) – over consuming the plastic bags. The company that offers the financial incentive perpetuates the future of “More” because the model still encourages people to buy more, more, and more in order to get the plastic and get the incentive. The advocacy group perpetuates the future of “Better” because they’re rejecting the plastic items being produced in the first place. Less demand for an item and more it can be phased out. Simple to understand, right?
Well, going off the idea that we need to have a future about things being “Better,” the “Story of Solutions” video mentioned how Capannori, Italy has a goal of Zero Waste. Maybe you’ve seen something about San Francisco in the news lately, since San Francisco has a goal of being a Zero Waste city by 2020 – that’s just in 5 years! Capannori, Italy is strides ahead of San Francisco and I took it upon myself to discover what they’re doing.
Similar to the example of the plastic bags and water bottles, Capannori, Italy already had a “More” future model in place. To address waste, the solution was to incinerate trash. Sure, it seemed like a viable waste management solution, but it didn’t discourage people from consuming more and producing waste. In 1997, schoolteacher Rossano Ercolini and Dr. Paul Connett, an expert on incineration and Zero Waste, informed local residents of the danger of erecting an incinerator in Capannori, Italy. The “More” future model began as a door-to-door waste collection pilot scheme. Once the pilot scheme got off the ground, it grew to cover the entire municipal area. By 2010, 82% of municipal waste was “Zero Waste” and only 18% went to landfills. To continue to incentivize people, a tariff was created in 2012 with the idea “Pay as you Throw.” In other words, the more trash bags you have to pick up at your house, the more you pay for your waste to be collected. Although Capannori is not 100% Zero Waste, it has set goals to be Zero Waste by 2020.
What has been done to make this town so successful? For one, community outreach was huge. At the beginning of the pilot program, printed information was sent to every address, waste free separation kits were sent to all homes, and volunteers were trained in order to be receptive to participants. Community meetings were held to gather input and ideas for the Zero Waste Strategy so that the process was familiar to residents. The program itself continues to make improvements. For instance, part of the 18% of waste that went to landfills in 2010 included coffee capsules. As a result, the Zero Waste Research Centre in Europe, set up by Capannori, reached out to coffee manufacturers to work on biodegradable or recyclable alternatives.
Wow. Ok, that was a lot to take in but I love reading about the community efforts of Capannori that have grown to inspire Italy and all of Europe! You often hear the phrase “Think Global, Act Local” and this is a perfect example of how this type of thinking really does work. While it may be challenging to ask a group of people to change the way they live their lives, start with small steps. What already existing processes can be improved upon? (For example, do people know what can properly be recycled?) What are some small changes that people can make? (Perhaps a community garden that uses compost from participants!) Remember, the way we can have a greener and “Better” future is not to think about “More” but to think about “less.”
“The Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard