A team of Mechanical Engineering students at Rice University have invented a gizmo that they hope will help mitigate food waste. The device is called "BioBlend" and it consists of an add-on to a standard garburator that processes food scraps into a paste suitable for composting or conversion to biogas.
Check out the video below.The design's virtues include the fact that it is simple and does not require changes of routine for people accustomed to using a kitchen garburator.
It helps to reduce food waste in the sense that it makes food disposal more efficient, with scraps being diverted to composting or conversion to alternative energy instead of simply going down the drain.
Naturally, there is also a smart feature that tracks the amount of food waste diverted through BioBlend.
The project is a neat one and may deliver as expected. However, increasing the efficiency of a system does not always lead to increased sustainability. In other words, there may be unintended consequences.
For example, there is the possibility that users could increase their generation of food scraps in order to increase output from BioBlend. Perhaps they really love composting or biogas generation! Throwing food down the drain might become their best means of satisfying this goal.
That seems unlikely.
However, if users are able to monitor how much scrap material they divert and share their achievements on social media, for example, then competitive pressures may incentivize them to make larger meals or to dump foods before they really become inedible in order to beat their Facebook friends at diversion.
Similarly, being able to dispose of food scraps virtuously may encourage food waste indirectly. For example, users may feel that since they have a BioBlend unit under their sinks, then it is OK to buy more food than they really need, or to dispose of it before it really goes off. After all, BioBlend will save them from having to simply throw it away!
I do not mean to pick on BioBlend. Nor will these unintended consequences necessarily happen. My point is simply that sustainability is a characteristic of a whole system of consumption. Aiming to increase sustainability by taking one device and making it more efficient is not guaranteed to produce the desired, overall effect.