The act of processing used or abandoned materials for use in creating new products

Recycling has become all the rage in some parts now. Some countries and regions still don’t do it, but that will change soon, they say. People are becoming more responsible, they say.

“Oh yes, of course I recycle. Glass, plastics and cans together in the black box, grass and vegetables in the green bin, newspapers and cardboard in the black bin with a green lid.”

Some councils are really getting on the ball with recycling now. Some places will even fine you if you don’t recycle. We all look for the recycle logo on the products, and we feel good when we put it in the right bin.

Of course we should feel good, we are actually doing something right, and just in time, I might add. It took a government awareness scheme to get people to wake up to recycling but eventually – in this country at least – we are getting there and I’m sure other countries are too…

Sorry to interrupt myself, but getting where exactly? We are all told that we are recycling a lot and that we need to recycle more, but how much is enough? Is everything I put out to be recycled, actually recycled? How much of what goes into my special bins turns into something else? I don’t want to spoil the party, but could this whole recycling thing be yet another smokescreen to justify global consumerism on a massive scale?


Material used to make packages

Let us start our discussion today by examining the causes of the need to recycle. One word: Packaging. Well, it can’t be anything else really can it?

Of course, there are other things like electrical goods, metal etc. but packaging is the main culprit.

Plastic, paper, cardboard, glass, polystyrene – all covering the product we are so desperate to get our hands on. We greedily tear away at the packaging to reveal the prized item we have just bought, and toss aside the tree that was cut down for us.

There are companies working diligently, the whole world over, trying to make a more environmentally friendly packaging solution which will see us through another twenty years or so of consumerism. The scary thing is that we have only been on a mad buying spree since the early eighties, and we show no sign of slowing down; so if we’re already starting to worry about the amount of packaging we are using, and where we are going to get the next lot from, we may be in trouble.

Businesses need to keep selling us stuff to stay afloat, pay their bills and make a little profit to reinvest in new products etc. so in order for them to keep going, we have to buy stuff. They don’t want us to get an environmental conscience. If we don’t buy their products, some poor man in indonesia or ipswich will lose their job.

This will have the knock on effect of him having to claim social security, which means the tax payers will have to fork out more money. He will start to lose his self-esteem, and he may become depressed and start drinking, which will mean he has no money for food. This may cause him to become angry and beat up his wife, which will leave her bandaged in hospital at the cost of the taxpayer. He will then end up in the police station and then the magistrate’s court, where it takes up people’s valuable time to try him on charges of assault. He is found guilty and sentenced to six months imprisonment at the expense of the taxpayer, whereby on release he finds that his home has been repossessed, and his wife has moved in with another man. On hearing this, he flies into a jealous rage, drinks half a bottle of whisky grabs a knife from the kitchen, and sets about finding his wife and this man. He tracks them down and confronts the man whom he promptly stabs, leaving him fatally wounded. At the trial he blames the general public for not buying electronics from the company he worked for, and says that the closure of the firm sent him into a spiral of events that eventually led him here. He was sentenced to life imprisonment at the expense of the taxpayer.

What a sorry state of affairs. The only person who seemed to constantly be picking up the bill here was the poor taxpayer, who you will remember, is the consumer as well.

If the consumer had concentrated on being a consumer instead of interfering in politics (the environment) then he would not have been called upon as a taxpayer!

Taxpayers should stick to being taxpayers and let the government sort out the tricky stuff, whilst the consumer should concentrate on buying stuff. It’s that simple. The government will let you know if it needs your input on anything.

As a consumer, you could be held responsible for the man who killed his love rival and were lucky not to be put on trial as an accessory. Let that be a lesson to you. The world’s foremost experts in environmental packaging are on the case (no pun intended), and will have worked out how to make packaging out of thin air very soon. Meanwhile don’t be alarmed. Keep buying. Lots of love, your government.

Fantastic. It’s so nice I don’t have to worry about anything. In fact, as a consumer, I don’t. I won’t stop buying for anybody. You gave me the green light to buy, so you worry about the environmental repercussions. I wanted a tv. I bought a tv. I don’t need the packaging, so I throw it away. Big deal.

Except it is a big deal. To make cardboard requires wood, same as paper, and you know where wood comes from. That’s it. Trees. Now,

I’m no tree hugging environmentalist, but I can see that there’s a problem. Trees are vital for the survival of this planet, and we keep cutting them down. No more trees. No more planet. Simple.

So would I trade all my packaging for a more sustainable environment?

Ha! Don’t make me laugh! That’s what recycling was brought in for. To keep the world running at the unsustainable pace it’s running at, and try to keep up by using packaging again.

Sorry, I’ve just had a crazy idea, why not use less packaging, by buying less stuff, or in fact, if you want something so badly, go and pick it up from the factory with no packaging. Would you? Of course not.

Most stuff needs packaging because it has been container freighted from a factory on the other side of the world to “save money.” If you fancy going to china to pick up your tv, then maybe you could do without packaging, but hang on, you’d have to put it on the plane, and they wouldn’t let you on without ample packaging. So back to square one!

We need to package products to make sure they don’t break before they’re delivered, because if they break, you’ll want a refund or replacement, and that costs money.

Too many refunds and the company will go under, and you saw what happened to the man who lost his job in the previous paragraph. Surely you don’t want that on your conscience, do you?

It’s a tough question, this one of packaging, although it seems so easy. Buy less, and you won’t need so much packaging. But our world now relies on people buying stuff, that being the reason we are all so comfortable here in the west. We sell a lot of stuff and we make a lot of money. That lot of money gives us and our employees a nice life, and the tax dollars go back into the community to help urban regeneration projects, education and health programs.

If we stopped buying stuff, the world would be a much darker place. Parks wouldn’t be built, new highways wouldn’t be created, civil engineering projects would be put on hold, there would be no more aid for the third world, people would starve in the poorest countries. People wouldn’t be able to go on holiday anymore.

What do you think? Do you think the world as we know it is dependent on consumers buying stuff, and is therefore also dependent on packaging to put all the stuff in?

Governments also buy stuff, but where do they get their money from? That’s right, the good old consumer. Oh, that’s you and me by the way. So I guess that gives us a lot of say in the matter if we want to ensure that the whole world isn’t reduced to recycled cardboard and paper. You may be able to recycle it but you can’t turn it into a tree again! Now that would be a cool magic trick.

Unfortunately, once the tree has been cut, it cannot ever be reformed.

There are two ways we can look at this. One is to stop buying so much stuff, which would reduce the amount of packaging, and the other is to invest in a more sustainable form of packaging. Trials of different products have been looked at but nothing has actually been proposed to fully stop trees being used for packaging. Maybe you have an idea. Maybe you can invent something. Maybe you also know why people need so much stuff in the first place. But that’s another topic!

Recyclable products are a good thing. It is a positive step. We need to encourage all of our neighbouring countries to recycle too, if they don’t already, but we also need to identify the biggest culprits in packaging – those products that are used by the most number of people and have the potential to become landfill and litter.

Although electronic goods do use large cardboard packets, we tend to only buy a new tv every five or six years I would guess, whereas we may drink two or three bottles of soft drinks a day, maybe even more in summer. What happens to them? What material are they made from? Are they recyclable?


Generic name for certain synthetic or semi synthetic materials that can be moulded or extruded into objects or films or filaments or used for making e.g. coatings and adhesives

Plastic was a great invention wasn’t it? I mean that in all sincerity. Derived from oil, it is durable, flexible, doesn’t rust and is strong, but lightweight. A truly ingenious invention. You name it, and it’s made from plastic. Bottles, plates, bags, cups, toilet seats, mobile phones.

There are numerous industrial applications. Plastic has been around for many years and is here to stay.

It gets a bad name from the number of plastic items that wash up on the world’s beaches, but that isn’t the plastics fault. It was built to last, and last it does. As usual, the problem arises when humans get involved. Humans are the ones responsible for the bottles and plastic bags on the beaches, and in fact all over the world, but it’s nice to blame an inanimate object.

Although plastic bottles are a scourge everywhere, I decided to look at the life cycle of some plastic products to see whether the resulting environmental pollution was in fact warranted. I decided to pick a soft drink as my example.

Water, additives, labour, electricity are needed to make the soft drink. The drink is bottled in plastic and distributed using labour, fuel, and electricity. It is then stored using electricity and labour before being distributed to retailers, who in turn store it in a fridge, using electricity and labour to stock up the fridge. The thirsty customer comes in, hands over his money and opens the drink. It takes less than a minute before he finishes it and tosses it into the bin (or not, as the case may be) resulting in environmental pollution. Now someone has to think about what to do with the bottle. Someone has to empty the bin, sort the rubbish, and get it to a recycling plant where it will be turned into a ????

I don’t know if it’s just me, but can anyone else see that this is a complete waste of time? Wouldn’t it be better to cut the whole process out and not make the soft drink in the first place? These drinks are not beneficial to the system, so why make them?

“Because they taste good,” say you, “who are you to tell us what we should or shouldn’t drink?”

And you’d be right of course, but if you stop and think for a moment. I mean really stop and think for a moment. What are the positive outcomes of drinking a cola drink? Refreshment? Try water or juice! The artificial flavour is what we love. The same as all the other processed foods we buy on the street, whose packaging, incidentally also usually contain plastics, and will also not biodegrade. Why is it that the food and drink we buy which is not good for our system, is also not good for the environment? Maybe there’s the link we need right there!

The idea that we bottle water is also a little crazy as well, although people would say they have a right to have bottled water. You see, whatever reason I give for not doing something, you will always have a counter argument ready! Why do you think that is? What are you protecting – the soft drinks industry? Or maybe it is your brain addicted to artificial sweeteners and flavourings doing its best to hang on to the stuff it loves.

People talk about being addicted to alcohol, but these fizzy soft drinks are much worse. They contain so many unnatural ingredients yet we love them. We crave them. Tap water! No thanks, I’ll have a sparkling drink. Tap water isn’t cool, but natural spring water is. The only problem is, it may be “good” for you, but it’s still in a plastic bottle, and someone’s got to do something with it after you’ve finished it. Just because you put it in a recycling bin doesn’t excuse you from your responsibilities.

Imagine how many plastic containers you would have in your house if you had to keep all the plastic bottles you have used over your life? From drinks to multi-surface spray. Think how much plastic you have accumulated that someone else has to get rid of!
I noticed how much I was using, and I started to use a simple measure. If the container was a plastic single use type I just wouldn’t buy the product. That included confectionery, soft drinks, or bottled water. The same applied to packaging around fast food. I just stopped eating it. I just stopped going to takeaway restaurants. If I couldn’t eat it on the premises I just wouldn’t eat it.

I extended this vow (Make a vow; promise) to all paper and polystyrene takeaway food and drink products. The net result is that I am much healthier (and wealthier)!

No longer do I drink or eat products that are pre-packaged and pre-processed. I extended this vow to supermarket food as well, which meant that if I didn’t cook it from the raw ingredients (which were sometimes packaged in plastic) I didn’t buy it. Net result. I am eating healthier food as well. Although (due to travelling in many parts of the world at the moment) I am finding it very hard to achieve this, but I will keep going with it.

Can you start to see the link forming between packaging, consumer waste and health?

Anything that is made in a factory never has the same love as something made at home. The home product has none of the packaging, and also has none of the industrial ingredients, but contains a lot of love. Home made anything. Toys. Food. Drinks. Clothes. Cards.

Made-at-home products don’t tend to need industrial strength packaging, because they don’t have to travel far to their destination.

In our reliance on companies to provide us with everything we need and want, we have started to lose traditional skills and creativity.

Things that not only shouldn’t be lost, but should be expanded upon (more in other chapters). Handing over control to someone else isn’t progress, it’s just a form of laziness. It’s not through lack of ability either. Man has proved again and again that he is a species that can turn his hand to any task, but machine-made isn’t the same as hand-made.

I am not suggesting you give up buying products from companies and make everything yourself, but I think that a return to individual products as opposed to mass market products will be a definite improvement. There is money to be made in creating products with love that are in tune with the natural environment, I assure you. People are always prepared to pay more for products that are hand-made as opposed to machine-made. You can control the packaging. You can be environmentally aware of the effect your product will have on the environment (if any). Think about it.

Now is a great time to start thinking, not about mass production, but about individual hand crafted products.

There is real beauty in the workmanship of the hand
and only dull conformity in the mass produced

This is one way we can reduce the impact humans are having on the earth, whilst still maintaining a decent income, and being more individually creative. And perhaps at last, we will stop using products that are harmful to our health, the environment; and products that are so global, they alter the eating and drinking habits of entire nations, through cleverly manipulated marketing campaigns.

Ultimately you will make up your own mind – that’s not for me to influence. But think carefully about what we have talked about here, and monitor your own use of packaged products and note what benefit each of them have on the system as a whole. If it doesn’t benefit us or the planet then stop using it. By benefit, I don’t mean satisfy a craving or addiction!

The less packaged products we all use, the more the world will start to move into a more peaceful phase.

Home grown (or local), home cooked products have love. You don’t need to tell the carrots you love them; it’s all built in!

Machines, and that includes hens, locked up and forced to lay eggs, or dairy cows who have pumps attached to their udders for hours on end, do not love what they do. Their work is forced labour and as such it makes sense that there will be little positive energy in the output.

Buying unpackaged products seems to be the way forward. You can’t make processed foods if you’ve got nothing to package them in! You can’t transport goods tens of thousands of kilometres if you’ve got nothing to protect them with. It means that products start to move back to local producers where packaging is minimal, and only to avoid breakages.

This may herald a new era of individual products where local (and regional) people can minimize the environmental impact, whilst still offering exciting and new products for the consumer. This is something I will be starting right away. Just because it’s local, doesn’t mean it has to be boring! Unlock your creativity.

Unpackage your life!

by alan macmillan orr

´the natural mind ‘ waking up´



Posted in

, ,

If you find alan’s work helpful consider Making a small one-time donation

Make a monthly donation

Make a yearly donation

Choose an amount


Or enter a custom amount


Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

Your contribution is appreciated.

DonateDonate monthlyDonate yearly
Chinese (Simplified)