Where does all this stuff that we use daily comes from?

Does it come from the neighbourhood? Europe? Asia?

What goes into making it all? What would life be like if I didn’t have all these things? What would life look like if I had to rely only on what consumer products are made in the region?

These are some of the questions we explored during our “Local and Regional Autonomy” project week. Inspired and provoked by the global quarantine and slow-down, our group of students and teachers looked into the existential questions of our basic needs and what it would mean to live a good life if we had to live from the region alone. In the end, all that stuff has to be moved somehow and if not by others then how would we get everything we need and want in our daily life?

Robin is an imaginary character we created who represents the more-or-less average person and consumer. Together we found out that this person uses around 200 separate objects every day- from the bed to the kitchen to school to the dance party this person likes to attend, etc.. After writing each object on a piece of paper we placed them on a large global map we created on the floor. The map had three rings: 1) local/home, 2) region and 3) farther away. We found out that only 15% of the number of objects come from our own homes and the region. The other 85% comes from “somewhere else”. Looking at the situation we thought through which of these products could we actually and physically supply ourselves with from the local and regional area, people and resources. In the end that initial 15% jumped to 50% and perhaps would have gone further if we continued thinking it all to the end. Many objects we thought were not yet realistic to get from close by, like an mp3 player or other electronics. Things like food, plates and bowls, clothing, and many other things we use and consume daily were in the local/regional rings.

What do we mean by “region” after all? It’s not so easy to define, we found out. Since there was no real hard and fast definition we took it upon ourselves to consider the different possibilities. We categorized our region in three different ways: 1) based on our watershed, 2) based on the official boundaries of Odemira and 3) the immediate surrounding area that we have a relationship with.

Of course, we had to come to the issue of energy usage, since there were so many electronic items on our “daily use” list and this topic showed us especially just how complicated this actually gets. So much energy goes into simple products that we use everyday, like the frying pan we use to cook our home-grown vegetables- it required a lot of energy to extract, process and melt that metal that is now that pan. And down the rabbit hole we went. Eventually we came to the possibility of solar energy and it’s different forms- solar panels, solar cookers, solar heaters, etc. Just to give you an idea of how much energy goes into the things we use every day, did you know that to use a high-speed blender it needs the same amount of energy as 5 average adults riding a bicycle uphill at a strong and consistent speed? For comparison to sunlight watts, this is around the same amount of energy that exists in one to two square meters of sunlight.

Living a good life is not just about good food, clothes to keep us warm and a cosy bed to sleep in at night. It also means playing soccer. We took it upon ourselves to make a soccer ball on our own using recycled material like leather from an old jacket, just to see how we would manage in a world without World Cup FIFA standard soccer balls. Maybe not the best to play a real game with, but the soccer ball we made showed us more potential than most of us thought before.