When new energy-efficient technology merely encourages waste
Got an interesting package in the mail yesterday from lighting giant Sylvania, which is introducing a new line of LED-lit products. One is a bottle stopper — you know, those plastic corks you use to store an opened a bottle of wine? But this isn’t just any bottle stopper. Moulded within are two watch batteries that power an LED light that changes colors. The idea is that when you have guests over, you can impress them by lighting up the bottle of wine at the centre of the table. They also have drink coasters and place mats that do the same, creating a light show on the dining room table.
This wouldn’t be possible without LED efficiency. But it also shouldn’t be possible. It’s pointless. It merely encourages more waste. The batteries in most cases can’t be replaced. The batteries run out after 60 hours of use, after which most people will be inclined to chuck the item in the garbage.
This is a prime example of new energy-efficient technology enabling more consumption, more waste. “While seemingly perverse, improvements in energy efficiency result in more of the good being consumed – not less,” said Jeff Rubin in 2007 when he was chief economist at CIBC World Markets. He cited the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate, which argues that “as improvements in energy efficiency lower the cost effective cost of energy relative to what otherwise would have prevailed, the resulting substitution and income effects that flow from any price change result in more of the good being consumed.”
The battery-powered LED bottle stopper and coasters may be small examples of the Khazzoom-Brookes postulate in action, but they all add up. It warns us that technology alone won’t save the day, and in some cases can set us back.