• Any materials unused and rejected as worthless or unwanted
  • Useless or profitless activity; using or expending or consuming thoughtlessly or carelessly
  • The trait of wasting resources
  • Spend thoughtlessly; throw away
  • Use inefficiently or inappropriately

I don’t know about you, but I like going to restaurants. It’s nice to get dressed up and go out for a meal. It saves cooking (and the washing up), and you get to try all sorts of different food you wouldn’t get at home. In the west, going out for a meal has become commonplace.

For a lot of us, eating out is just like any other activity we do, it doesn’t have to be a special occasion anymore. We have the money to do it so why not? Let me start this discussion by telling you a story.

Over the past few years, whilst travelling, I found work cooking in several pub kitchens. I am not a trained chef, but somehow I fell into it. I found the work quite easy, and quite satisfying and it was a good feeling cooking lunch for two hundred people on a sunday.

Anytime I was short of travelling money, I found work as a chef. It was during this period I (a) became vegetarian, (b) learnt a lot about myself, and (c) learned about how much we waste.

The pointless existence of a restaurant lettuce…

I don’t know about your country, but in the uk it is commonplace to provide a “garnish” with the meal, which is basically a small side salad comprising lettuce, tomato, cucumber, and maybe some mixed peppers, or coleslaw, and a salad dressing (oil and vinegar). For several thousand meals I carried on putting the side salad on without a thought. Then one day, I had a moment of clarity, and I became aware of my actions.

I was mid-way through scraping the almost untouched side salad off a plate and into the bin, when it came to me. “Someone has grown this food from a seed (maybe even in a different country) and I am throwing it into a bin where it will become compost or more likely landfill!” So I created a little flow chart which went something like this.

Take a seed and plant it which requires peat/compost water, labour, and a plastic container if it is not grown in the field directly from seed (and electricity if it’s on a production line). The seed is nurtured using water, electricity and labour. The seed needs space to grow and so a field is needed. The lettuce is constantly watered and may be sprayed with chemicals, which requires labour. At the allotted time, the lettuce is harvested, which uses labour. The lettuce is washed at the farm which uses water, labour, and electricity.

The lettuce is packed, which requires plastic, and labour. The lettuce is transported to either a distribution point, or market, which uses fuel and labour. The lettuce is purchased by the pub or restaurant, which requires money, labour and fuel to deliver it. The lettuce is then stored in a refrigerator, which uses electricity. The lettuce is then washed a minimum of two to three times to make sure there are no bugs left in it, which uses water and labour. The lettuce is then stored in the fridge which again uses electricity. The order comes up for a steak and chips (with a garnish of course), and the lettuce (and all the other salad ingredients which also have had to follow the same process) is served onto the plate, which uses labour. The meal is delivered to the customer, which requires labour. The customer eats the steak and chips and ignores the lettuce. The lettuce is then transported back to the kitchen which uses labour. The lettuce is put in the bin using labour. The bin is then put outside using labour. The rubbish is collected using labour and fuel, and something happens to it (either burial, or maybe composting if we’re lucky) which uses fuel and labour. Any questions?

Please feel free to go over this again if you feel there is a point you would like to argue.

Over and over, I saw this happening, until one day I decided to put a stop to it. I told the management I was no longer going to be putting something on a plate that was being ignored as it was a complete waste of food, which is precious (maybe not to us, but think of the people who are starving). Do you know what? They weren’t even interested.

I was told to keep putting it on as customers “liked a bit of greenery” on their plate. It didn’t matter what they left on their plate, because “it was all included in the price.”

This really shocked me. I tried to explain that just because we had paid the farmer, and the customer had paid us, didn’t make it right to waste food. I was told to either keep doing it or “if I didn’t like it, I could find another job,” which I did.

I couldn’t believe how irresponsible people were. How could they not care that we were wasting so much? The more I looked into waste, the more I realised that the only thing that was important to businesses was getting paid, and the only thing that was important to the customer was getting what he wanted. After he had paid for it, it was nobody’s business what he did with it.

Easy come, easy go. That should be the motto of the developed world these days, especially in massive consumer countries like the usa, uk, and australia (and any other country that values these ideals). We have no idea of the process to get a product from concept to the consumer, and the amount of input and effort required or the number of people involved. But then it hit me. Whether we needed the product, or even used it, didn’t matter a damn. What was important were the steps in between. These steps created the wealth of the country, and kept people in jobs.

How many times have you been into bargain stores and picked up some plastic rubbish made in china for £1.00? You certainly didn’t need it, it wouldn’t last long before falling to bits, and you probably wouldn’t use it. You bought it because it was there, and you wanted it!

It seems to me that waste is an inevitable consequence of economic development. There are only so many things that people (or the country) really need in life, and that wouldn’t keep everyone in jobs.

So they have to produce things that people don’t need or in the case of that poor side salad, don’t even want in order that people stay in work. Think about it.

If the pub I worked for didn’t buy 100 lettuces a week for their pointless side salads, what would happen to the poor old farmer? He needs to make a living too you know! What if everyone decided not too put garnishes on the plate as eye candy?

The farmer would get no more orders, he wouldn’t be able to pay his bills, and pretty soon he would be broke. And we know what could happen there don’t we? He would start to drink heavily, he would become a burden on the taxpayer, his self-esteem would diminish, and he wouldn’t be able to pay his own taxes anymore, which would mean that the government would have less money to spend on essential projects such as defence.

“Look, let’s save ourselves all this trouble, and be good consumers and keep demanding a garnish on your plate” says the minister.

“Don’t deny us our Garnish” will be on the placards waved wildly by stooges from the garnish industry.
“Don’t worry farmers” says the minister, whilst attempting to pacify the angry mob. “Pretty soon, the consumer will come round, then you’ll all be back in business”

Cheers and shouts of “Hoorah!” can be heard up and down the country…

It seems that waste is acceptable as long as people keep their jobs, because let’s face it, if people didn’t want to change their car every two minutes, or upgrade their bathroom suite or kitchen, or buy a new pc every six months, what would all the people who work in those industries do? They wouldn’t be able to work for eight hours a day, and there wouldn’t be enough work to go around for everybody. They would all have to be moved to part time, and then some may lose their jobs. If business is still slow, the companies will close down, making everyone unemployed. and leaving the government with the problem.

As far as a government is concerned, a little bit of waste is far better than a lot of people out of work. Come election time, the unemployed may decide to vote for a government who can provide them with work. Waste vs. Votes. Easy choice, no?

Maybe you don’t realise that everything we buy has had to come from somewhere? Materials do not just magically appear in the atmosphere. All materials have come from the earth. The computer I write on, the desk I sit at, the chair I sit on, the window I look out from, the curtains that adorn the window, the curtain rail, the screws that hold it into the wall. The building I sit in, the pen I write notes with, the notebook I write them in, and the cup I drink from.

Considering the industrial revolution started only a couple of hundred years ago, and global consumerism has only been around for thirty or forty years, we are consuming raw materials at a massive rate don’t you think? What do you think is going on in the factories around the world at this moment? Whilst you are reading about waste, tens of millions of people are engaged in making something we may or may not need, just so they can have a job!

I am not against people having jobs, far from it, we all need to work to provide for ourselves, but it is the choice of work we undertake, and the products we make that is vitally important to the earth. We are literally eating our planet away from the inside out. We dig, and we dig, we drill and we drill, we chop and we chop. For what? Progress?

I have often sat and watched people dropping rubbish off at the local “tip” (they do separate a lot now, so more recycling is done) and the sheer volume of “rubbish” that people don’t want anymore amazes me. With so many eye catching products on sale, at dirt cheap prices or on long interest free credit terms people feel compelled to upgrade. They love the latest gadgets. They must have them. They must have something new. In my mind this is nothing more than a simple addiction.

People are conditioned to believe that buying new “stuff” is why you work. It is a right, a privilege, you have earned, by going out to work for forty hours a week. You are Entitled. Of course this is just marketing hype from the government and the companies making the products, but you begin to believe it. That is the reason to go to work. Not for the benefit of mankind, but to buy new stuff. What a waste.

Let’s go into this really carefully, shall we? Why do we believe we are entitled to waste the earth’s resources? Remember, most things we mine and dig for are millions of years old and will take millions of years more to be created again (if ever). Are we really that uncaring that we would leave future generations with nothing but a used and abused planet?

“Thanks very much,” our descendants will say. “You screwed it all up for us when we weren’t even born, just so you could satisfy your desires. Desire to have a big house. Desire for status. For a big car. For lots of money in the bank.”

And that’s it isn’t it? Whatever we do we do for money. Just for the sake of money and having nice material things you can’t take with you when you die! Imagine your epitaph: “john smith. Died. 2007. He took what he could, and put two fingers up to the rest of the world. He loved his family though.”

There are those of us in the world, including you, who care what happens to our planet. After all, it’s the only one we’ve got. So what is the answer to this problem of waste, which goes on, not only in the poor old consumer’s house, but also on a much, much larger scale in manufacturing and the service industries? Not by telling people to use less, that’s for sure!

As we have discussed earlier on, people feel entitled to use and waste things as long as they’ve paid for them. They don’t care that the cost of the inputs far outweigh the final output. They want to enjoy themselves. They want to spend the money they have earned working hard all week. “Don’t spoil our fun” they say. “After all I do, I’m entitled to enjoy myself a little, aren’t I?”

Entitled (Qualified for by right according to law).

One of the “little” pleasures that british folk enjoy, is the traditional english breakfast. A massive affair, which contains many items, enjoyed at the weekends, in cafe’s, hotels and bed and breakfasts throughout the country.

Full English Breakfast Menu

Selection of Juices
Cereal or Porridge
Eggs (done as you like)
Mushrooms, Tomatoes
Hash Browns or Fried bread
Tea or Coffee
Toast with a selection of jams or marmalades

To most people, that is just a nice menu of tasty items to be enjoyed at breakfast. To me, it represents massive (that word again) inputs, and like most restaurant food is from the cheapest source around.

To start with, the fresh juice is likely to be made from concentrate, but more importantly, imported from a country that is able to produce cheap fruit juice which requires labour, packaging, and transportation to get to the breakfast table, followed by porridge or cereal which has to be grown from corn or maize in enough quantities to make it economically viable to grow, and requires land, labour, transport, processing, and electricity, followed by bacon or sausage which requires a pig to be reared, fed, fattened, and watered before being slaughtered, processed, packaged, stored and transported, which uses fuel, electricity, labour. However you like your eggs, they require chickens to be kept laying their whole un-natural life. The eggs then have to be stored and processed, before being delivered. Tomatoes and mushrooms must be grown, which uses water, and labour, and electricity for processing, followed by fuel for transportation. The tea and coffee are required to be imported from a country far away, using ships or planes, which pollute the environment, and sugar to taste, and milk to be added. Followed at long last by the toast which is wheat, which must be processed and turned into flour which is then processed into bread and baked and delivered, topped with butter from the cow which must be milked every day, and the milk churned to make butter, which is wrapped and transported.

Phew this is tiring me out writing this! Are you tired reading it yet?

Last but not least there is the jam or marmalade which must be harvested from oranges or strawberries, packed and transported to the jam factory where sugar must be added. It must be packaged and transported, which as you know uses….

I’m glad that’s over, because it probably took me longer to write those sentences than it would for you to eat your full english breakfast!

You may think this is an extreme example but you can substitute “full english breakfast” for any product. You can then look at the real cost of the product you are buying. For example, when you go to buy a table, a car, a house or a window, do you consider the environmental inputs? Of course not. How about when you stay at a hotel or you shop at a supermarket? If, like me, you decide to consider the environmental inputs, and not just the finished products or price, you will find that not only will you drive yourself mad but you will drive the rest of your family and friends, not to mention the salesman, MAD!

Consider the environmental inputs before you buy
Do the inputs cost more than the final output?

So is it worth bothering with? You tell me. I think it is! But a much easier method would be to turn this whole thing on its head, and instead of making it the consumer’s responsibility, make it the supplier’s.

Make them tell us what the environmental (and social) costs that went into making their products, so we can make an informed decision as to whether or not to make a purchase. Simple eh?

This could be a benefit for the supplier as well. People are happy to pay for a product that has been produced in a manner that respects the environment in which we live. There is a growing movement of people, like you, who are not prepared to waste any more of our natural resources on frivolous products and activities.


  • The quality of being simple or uncompounded
  • Absence of affectation or pretence
  • Lack of ornamentation

Now before you all start complaining that I am preaching we should all live like austere monks on wooden mattresses on the floor, let’s examine what it means to be simple. Does this mean you have to stop wearing normal clothes and wear one home spun piece of cloth?

Does this mean you cannot enjoy your life anymore? Does this mean you mustn’t have a nice house with a garden or take a bath every day? No, of course it doesn’t.

Simplicity is not external, and that is one of the biggest errors people make. It is not about getting rid of your car, growing your own vegetables or living in a mud hut in the forest complaining about the evils of capitalism. Simplicity is in your mind, and can exist only in your mind, although that will affect your external actions.

So how do we learn to be simple; how do we rid ourselves of desire and greed?

The first step is awareness.

Awareness of yourself in action. You must watch yourself closely.

Awareness is that fraction of a second between thinking about something, and doing it. In that split second, we have to learn to let compassion in. Love, empathy and compassion as you will remember from other topics are the three keys to life. This is of course only my opinion, and I urge you to test them.

Do not take my word for it.

Once you have discovered awareness, you will free yourself of desire and greed, and the urge to be wasteful will be like a dream you had many years ago. Things you once thought were important to you will no longer enter your mind.

I spent my entire twenties being wasteful, although I felt no guilt at being responsible for so much waste. I just didn’t care about anything apart from what I could get for me; whatever the cost. I was so greedy. I wanted everything, and I wanted it right now. I wasn’t prepared to wait. I didn’t care if the table I bought came from an unsustainable rainforest or the salad I bought that came prepared in a bag, had been produced in an african country, where there was scarce enough water for the local people. I was not a bad person, I just wasn’t aware that my actions had far reaching consequences. It was not until I developed awareness that I realised what I was doing.

Life is a learning process and I will not say that I am simple in my mind, but every day, I try to be more aware of myself, and the effect I have on the world. In the end that is the best you can do. The rest will fall into place.

by alan macmillan orr

“The natural mind waking up”



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