Annie Leonard is a well-known international environmentalist who has spent more than 20 years investigating and organizing on environmental health and justice issues.
The California woman has traveled around the world and seen hundreds of factories where goods are made and areas where those goods are discarded.
In "The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession with Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health -- and a Vision for Change," Leonard connects the dots between the trash we accumulate from the "stuff" we accumulate and its direct impact on the global environment.
Read an excerpt of the book below, and then head to the "GMA" Library to find more good reads.
Growing up in the green and luscious city of Seattle during the 1970s was idyllic, but the real joy came in the summertime, when my family and I piled our camping gear into our station wagon and headed for the stunning North Cascades mountains. Since this was in the days before DVD players in the backseats, during the drive I'd look out the window and study the landscape. Each year I noticed that the mini-malls and houses reached a bit farther, while the forests started a bit later and got a bit smaller. Where were my beloved forests going?
I found my answer to that question some years later in New York City, of all places. The Barnard College campus where I went for my environmental studies classes was on West 116th Street on Manhattan's Upper West Side, and my dorm room was on West 110th Street. Every morning I groggily trudged up those six blocks, staring at the mounds of garbage that line New York City's streets at dawn each day. Ten hours later, I walked back to my dorm along the emptied sidewalks. I was intrigued. I started poking around to see what was in those never-ending piles of trash. Guess what? It was mostly paper.
Paper! That's where my trees were ending up. (In fact, about 40 percent of municipal garbage in the United States is paper products.1) From the forests I knew in the Pacific Northwest to the sidewalks of the Upper West Side to . . . where?
My curiosity was sparked. I couldn't stop there; I needed to find out what happened after the paper disappeared from the curb. So I took a trip to the infamous Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. Covering 4.6 square miles, Fresh Kills was one of the largest dumps in the world. When it was officially closed in 2001, some say the stinking mound was the largest man-made structure on the planet, its volume greater than that of the Great Wall of China, and its peaks 80 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty.2 I had never seen anything like Fresh Kills. I stood at its edge in absolute awe. As far as I could see in every direction were trashed couches, appliances, cardboard boxes, apple cores, clothes, plastic bags, books, and tons of other Stuff. You know how a gory car crash scene makes you want to turn away and stare at the same time? That is what this dump was like. I'd been raised by a single mother of the post-Depression era who instilled in her kids a sense of respect for quality, not quantity. Partly from her life philosophy and partly out of economic necessity, my youth was shaped along the lines of the World War II saying: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without." There just wasn't a lot of superfluous consumption and waste going on in our house. We savored the things we had and took good care of them and kept them until every last drop of usefulness was gone.