07 March 2011

The Secret Life of Stuff

Written by Published in Book Reviews

Julie Hill, whose green credentials are impressive, begins by celebrating human achievement and even confesses to having a yen herself for ‘stuff’. However, she quickly points out that because we rarely know where it comes from and where it ends up, a shadow is cast

The Secret Life of StuffThe effort put into turning materials into the objects around us, using nature’s abundance, is rarely appreciated.

So how do we cast light on the shadow? Instead of feeling overwhelmed by the big issues such as climate change, biofuels or renewable energy, Hill encourages us to know the facts about where our stuff comes from and to know our limits. She explains that reprocessing materials costs energy, even when that energy is renewable, and so strongly advocates for reusing stuff – passing it onto other people through Freecycle, eBay, boot sales, charity shops or flea markets, or using it until it literally falls apart.

We learn about the 15th-century regattieri, who made the used, luxury textiles of the Florentine rich accessible to humbler folk by remaking and reselling them; and how in Japan kimono fabric was recycled into new clothes. Like that process involving what was often beautiful silk, Julie Hill’s glimpse into the secret life of stuff is a small treasure. 

The Secret Life of Stuff by Julie Hill (Vintage) £8.99

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