Journal Article

American Bottles: The Road to No Return

Robert Friedel

in Environmental History

Published on behalf of American Society for Environmental History

Volume 19, issue 3, pages 505-527
Published in print July 2014 | ISSN: 1084-5453
Published online May 2014 | e-ISSN: 1930-8892 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/envhis/emu061
American Bottles: The Road to No Return

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Beverage containers, particularly bottles, are central to both the image and the practice of consumer recycling. Prior to today's recycling practices, however, beverage bottles were generally reused, often dozens of times. This practice was arguably far more sustainable and environmentally responsible than modern recycling. How did the system of bottle deposit, return, and reuse give way to the current one-use bottle? This article finds the answer in a confluence of changing retail practices, promotions by materials and container manufacturers, and the construction of new ideas about so-called convenience among consumers. A combination of economic, technical, and social changes led to an extended contest about convenience and economy among various actors, a contest that was only settled after more than two decades of irresolution and uncertainty. This image contrasts sharply with that of those who see the triumph of nonreturnables as the product simply of new technologies or the choices of large corporations.

Journal Article.  9872 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Environmental History ; Environment ; Environmentalist Thought and Ideology (Social Science)

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