Enevo Waste Analytics Blog

June 08, 2016

Packaging, waste and the Jevons Paradox

Packaging, waste and the Jevons Paradox

More sophisticated and effective food packaging has increased our culinary options, allowing more out of season and exotic foodstuffs to be available all year round.  This is great if you’re looking to grab something interesting to eat over your lunch break, but it isn’t necessarily good news once this packaging becomes waste.

Food packaging also prevents food spoiling prematurely, becoming damaged and extending its shelf life. There are a number of studies that have demonstrated that the overall carbon savings from avoiding food spoilage greatly outweighs the carbon footprint from the packaging itself. There have also been some great advances in packaging that ensures the same packaging performance can be realised from less material. So this should be a good thing right? Improved packaging means less waste, doesn’t it? So why do we have a growing problem with waste and litter?

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This conundrum reminded me of Jevons Paradox, named after economist William Stanley Jevons. In 1885 Jevons observed that technological advances in the efficient use of coal actually resulted in its increased consumption, rather than the reverse. This paradox was a consequence of the relative cost of using coal coming down, making it more accessible to consumers, which in turn increased its demand and overall consumption.

In a similar fashion, advances in packaging technology have meant more products can be packaged more readily and cheaply by more companies. This coupled with a growth in more affluent and urbanised societies looking to consume more convenience foods has resulted in more waste and litter in our city streets.

Whilst sometimes the level of packaging can be got badly wrong, often the problem isn’t necessarily due to the packaging itself, but rather how the waste is thrown away and then collected.

If a bin starts to overflow it becomes a litter problem, which is more expensive to fix than simply emptying a bin. With more waste packaging and less resources to empty bins, littering will inevitably rise unless innovation is also applied to this issue. Litter has other consequences too, including unsightliness, hygiene and pest implications as well as simply being unpleasant.

At Enevo we’ve developed a solution to help alleviate the problem. Cities working with Enevo are able to identify which bins require emptying and by when. By helping our clients to collect bins at the right time we’re helping them to cut cost and prevent overflowing bins becoming a litter problem.

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