The Story of Stuff Project

The Story of Stuff Project is an activist group spun out of a 2007 anti-plastic documentary of the same name. The documentary claimed that global use of everyday products like clothing, shoes, radios, and food packages was unsustainable and called for Americans to scale back their consumption to create a waste-free future, especially when it comes to plastic. 

The documentary was funded by The Tides Foundation, a shady leftwing foundation known for providing layers of anonymity for donors. The Story of Stuff Project claims that the video has had 50 million views, though the current total on YouTube has the film sitting below 7 million views. 

The film’s executive producers include a group called the “Funders Workgroup for Sustainable Production and Consumption” (now “The Sustainability Funders”). The “Funders Workgroup” includes a variety of left-wing foundations.  

The Story of Stuff film has been criticized for making misleading claims to convince people everyday products should be abandoned. The Story of Stuff Project uses many of the same misleading tactics to sell its message, even if it means peddling disinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Greenpeace Ties

There are Greenpeace fingerprints all over the Story of Stuff Project. Annie Leonard, the star of the Story of Stuff documentary and the founder of the project, is the executive director of Greenpeace USA. She was also involved in Greenpeace International, as well as the Global Alliance for Incinerator Alternatives (abbreviated GAIA, after the Earth goddess in Greek mythology). 

GAIA’s pie-in-the-sky founding mission statement includes opposition to even landfills to dispose of trash that can’t be recycled. (The EPA says modern landfills “are well-engineered and managed facilities.”) Instead, GAIA called for goods that can’t be recycled to be reused and repaired. Does that mean we should all be driving refurbished 1960’s cars and using clunky 1980’s cell phones — just so we create “zero waste”?

Three out of the eight board members for the Story of Stuff Project are Greenpeace alums, including Leonard. The other two are Beverley Thorpe, who was with Greenpeace International, and Andre Carothers, who was the editor of Greenpeace’s national magazine for more than a decade. 

Greenpeace has been slammed for one of its own cofounders, Patrick Moore, for being “anti[-]technology and anti-science”; “pro-anarchy”; “anti-trade”; and “basically anti-civilization.” Moore has written, “My former Greenpeace colleagues are either not reading the morning paper or simply don’t care about the truth.”

Plastic Prohibition

The Story of Stuff Project oversees the #BreakFreeFromPlastic campaign which aims to eliminate the use of plastics. The Story of Stuff Project and the Break Free From Plastic coalition use social media campaigns to harass companies that produce products containing plastic. They conduct an annual “brand audit,” which is an unscientific trash scavenger hunt in which they seek to blame American companies for the plastic in the ocean — even though most of the plastic in the ocean is traced back to Asia

The Story of Stuff Project’s animus has been mostly pointed at water bottle producers. The project has several campaigns specifically targeting Nestle. The Unbottle Water campaign lobbies local governments to outlaw bottling in their city to prevent Nestle from opening bottling factories — which provide new jobs to the community. 

In a second campaign called Troubled Waters, the Story of Stuff argues that Nestle and other water bottling companies should be forbidden from packaging water, effectively outlawing all bottled water. They’ve argued that the public (a.k.a. the government) should be the only entity to oversee water packaging. Because it’s not like the government has ever messed up a water supply (unless you count Flint, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey, that time the EPA accidentally contaminated an entire river, etc.).

Within the first six months of 2020, 345 boil water advisories were issued by municipal governments who needed to warn people about tainted tap water which included fecal matter, E. coli, or other pathogens. But the activists want us to believe the government will protect the water. 

Coronavirus Conspiracies

Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic started to wreak havoc on families around the globe, the Story of Stuff Project launched a campaign called the #NoPlasticsBailout in which they accidentally acknowledged that “single-use” plastic products were essential in helping people stay safe during the pandemic. 

The project lamented the fact that cities had to revoke plastic bag bans, shut down public water fountains, and take other measures that left people to rely on plastic products. They noted that bans on plastic products were “spreading like wildfire”–that is, until local governments realized people needed these products, such as personal protective equipment, to stay safe. 

The Story of Stuff spun a conspiracy theory that the plastic industry was responsible for a “disinformation campaign” that said coronavirus can spread via surfaces. 

“At the core of their disinformation campaign, the industry exaggerated the risks of transmitting the virus through contact with surfaces in order to prize open new markets for single-use plastics, re-brand their products around safety and lobby for essential worker exemptions to the social distancing guidelines unavailable to the thousands of small businesses struggling for survival.”

Grab your tinfoil hat! (But be sure to recycle it when you’re done.) 

In reality, the CDC notes that the coronavirus absolutely can spread via surfaces. While it is more common for the virus to spread through close contact between people, respiratory droplets can be transmitted from surfaces to people’s hands which can give them the virus if they touch their mouth, nose, or eyes. 

Is it fair to say Story of Stuff is “against science”?

In a video for the #NoPlasticsBailout, SOS even went as far as overlaying the words “they claim their products save lives” over a photograph of a disposable face mask. Face masks are largely regarded as the most important tool in stopping the spread of coronavirus.

In a failed attempt to tie the plastic industry of disinformation, the Story of Stuff Project managed to push dangerous disinformation of their own. They weren’t the only environmental group to ignore science during the pandemic. Greenpeace has similarly dismissed the advice of coronavirus experts to attend mass protests throughout the summer. Greenpeace also held a protest after the 2020 election to urge Joe Biden to adopt more radical environmental positions.  

The Story of … other misleading campaigns

In addition to the Story of Stuff, Leonard starred in several other supposedly informational documentaries, including The Story of Cosmetics, The Story of Bottled Water, and The Story of Cap and Trade.

Leonard’s film on cosmetics was similarly funded by the Tides Foundation. The Tides Foundation also funds the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics. Together, Leonard and the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics led a smear campaign attempting to claim that makeup gives people cancer. They claimed that lipstick had “carcinogens” while in reality those products do not have enough of the material to actually cause cancer. 

The campaign ignored the FDA’s report revealing that every ingredient in lipstick was “within the range that would be expected from lipsticks formulated with permitted color additives and other ingredients that had been prepared under good manufacturing practice conditions.”

Lee Doren of the Competitive Enterprise Institute highlighted Leonard’s track record of using scare tactics and misleading claims to keep her porous campaigns afloat. 

“Throw up some scary words on the screen and let the audience think they may learn about the chemicals by the end. Unfortunately Annie does very little to provide information to the viewer in the Story of Cosmetics,” Doren said, adding, “Saying something contains a carcinogen in and of itself is meaningless. Almost everything in the grocery store has carcinogens at the part per billion level; even one raw mushroom has more carcinogens than you can expect from water you can drink in a day. But vegetables are still good for you. Meaning, without providing more information Annie’s just scaring people.”