Lifecycle of Stuff

Let’s learn about the Lifecycle of Stuff…

  • Stuff’s Story: everything we use has a story, and we call this the product’s lifecycle.
    Extraction: everything we use comes from the Earth, and a product’s lifecycle begins with the raw materials we use to make it. Extraction is when we withdraw resources (raw materials) from the Earth. Most products are made of more than one resource. Examples of this are mining, logging, drilling for oil and gas, hunting, and farming.
  • Production: is when we make or manufacture something (a product). Raw materials are used to produce the items we use.
  • Distribution: we transport materials all across the world to make them available for use and for sale. This is called distribution.
  • Consumption: is the process in which the product (or thing) is completely used up, destroyed, or consumed. When we buy stuff and use it we are called consumers.
  • Disposal: is the action of getting rid of or throwing away something. When we dispose of products they often end up in a landfill.
    Impacts happen at all stages of products lifecycles. 



Choose one of the engaging activities below to take action:

  • What’s my stuff’s story?: Take one of your favourite items of clothing, a toy or your bike and try to research it’s story. What is it made of? Where do they grow/mine/source that material? Where are the parts from? Was it put together in the same place?
  • World Map of Stuff: Draw a rough outline of the world. Draw a pathway of where your stuff has travelled from, right from the source of the natural materials to the manufacture then to you. Does an item travel a lot to get to you? Do you have a piece of stuff that is locally produced including the materials?
  • Lifecycle Disruptors: disrupt the usual lifecycle of an item that is destined for the trash, by upcycling it. By upcycling we sidestep the final disposal step in a product’s lifecycle and give it new life, by making it into something new. Some examples of upcycling projects are: make mittens or a hat out of old sweaters, make grocery bags out of old t-shirts, make homemade paper out of recycling or old books, turn a broken remote control into a toy car. The possibilities are only as limited as your imagination!


Journaling prompts

Choose one of the topics below to write about:

  • Can you think of one example of an impact that happens in the lifecycle of a product? Explain when and how this impact happens.
  • Can you think of some ways that you are encouraged to purchase more than you need, through different forms of advertising? Give some examples.
  • In natural lifecycles, plants and animals produce offspring that start the lifecycle over again. In other words, the lifecycle is a circle, and begins again where it ends. In the lifecycle of stuff, things travel in a straight line from extraction to disposal and the lifecycle ends with things thrown into the landfill. How could we make the lifecycle of stuff more circular, like it is for living things?



Check out some of our favourite Lifecycle of stuff videos:



  • The Instructables website is a great place to get ideas and instructions on all sorts of projects. Just search “upcycle” for lots of tutorials on different upcycling projects.
  • The Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard (book)
  • Trash Revolution by Erica Fyvie and Bill Slavin (book ages 8-12)


Related Podcasts

Listen to one of these great podcasts to learn more:



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