Life with Stuff

We all have stuff hiding in closets, in the attic, and in the basement. Stuff fills the kitchen, the bedrooms, and the garage. Stuff lurks at work, in the car, and even in the backyard.

Where does it all come from and where will it end up?

The answer isn’t as simple as you might think. Stuff doesn’t just get made in factories, sold in stores, used-up and then sent to the landfill. A short video “The Story of Stuff” distills the real process: resources are destroyed, people are abused, toxins pollute, advertisements sell the toxins, stuff breaks (as planned), the stuff pollutes again upon incineration, and the government approves.

Even if you think you already know the story, the 20 minutes is worth the watch. The producer mixes just enough humor with real facts to keep the viewer interested and makes a complex story simple enough to understand without oversimplifying it.

After watching the video, I hope you might return to with a fuller understanding of our goals. We believe that in order to break the destructive chain of events described in “The Story of Stuff” that stuff should be produced locally, using local resources.

With the recent e. coli outbreaks in supermarket spinach, among other food scares, Americans have become more concerned about and aware of where their food is from. But as the “Story of Stuff” demonstrates, it is not just about food. And adventurous people have taken this to heart, making their own housing from local resources or producing heat from the sun. (This is why at Factor e we live in a “mud hut”, drink water from the roof, and create power with waste vegetable oil from near-by restaurants.)

So, why do so few people use local resources, say, for building? With the experience of building out of earthbags and cordwood, the resounding answer is time. The 16 foot diameter cordwood addition took roughly over 400 hours. And the floor among other details is still not finished. The materials were cheap (~$400), but if we had paid for labor, the bill would have quickly gone beyond our budget (~$5000?). At Factor e, we have structured our lives to have the time to build our own housing. Most people can’t.

But what if a simple piece of technology reduced the time, so one could pay for labor or even have the time to do it oneself. That’s why we are pursuing the Compressed Earth Block Press. A high-speed, labor-saving version on the market today costs $25,000. The price of labor then, is quickly replaced by pricey machinery. Is there a middle ground? Our goal is that the Open Source version of the CEB will both be affordable (~$5000 ready to use or $1500 DIY) and labor saving. And it is well on its way there as you can see from our blog posts (specifically, search Compressed Earth Block Press under catagories, and especially day 35).

The CEB is just step one. We believe that other simple technologies will be just as potent, transforming the story of stuff from destructive externalized costs to vibrant locally-responsible economies.

1 Comment

  1. Solus

    Awesome stuff.

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