Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Making a Green Machine

Making a Green Machine: The Infrastructure of Beverage Container Recycling

Finn Arne Jørgensen
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 208
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Making a Green Machine
    Book Description:

    Consider an empty bottle or can, one of the hundreds of billions of beverage containers that are discarded worldwide every year. Empty containers have been at the center of intense political controversies, technological innovation processes, and the modern environmental movement.Making a Green Machineexamines the development of the Scandinavian beverage container deposit-refund system, which has the highest return rates in the world, from 1970 to present. Finn Arne Jørgensen investigates the challenges the system faced when exported internationally and explores the critical role of technological infrastructures and consumer convenience in modern recycling. His comparative framework charts the complex network of business and political actors involved in the development of the reverse vending machine (RVM) and bottle deposit legislation to better understand the different historical trajectories empty beverage containers have taken across markets, including the U.S. The RVM has served as more than a hole in the wall--it began simply as a tool for grocers who had to handle empty refillable glass bottles, but has become a green machine to redeem the empty beverage container, helping both business and consumers participate in environmental actions.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5087-9
    Subjects: Environmental Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. Chapter 1 Bottles, Cans, and Everyday Environmentalism
    (pp. 1-10)

    A hundred years ago, a beer bottle had much in common with a library book. Like the book, a bottle did not belong to the consumer, but was rather a valuable resource that belonged to the distributor. A deposit paid upon purchase encouraged consumers to return the bottle to the store where they had bought it; in some cases, in fact, you could not buy more beer without returning bottles at the same time. When the consumer returned the bottle to the store, the grocer would refund the deposit. The bottles would then be sent back to the bottler, typically...

  6. Chapter 2 The Problem of Bottles
    (pp. 11-28)

    In the fall of 1961 the Norwegian actor and comedian Carsten Byhring ridiculed the new one-way, nonreturnable beer bottle at the Edderkoppen Theatre in Oslo. As he put it, the problem was not that the distinctively chubby bottle looked so bad, at least any more than other empty bottles. But what were you supposed to do with it? You were not allowed to leave it anywhere. You could not sell it, or even give it away for free. No one knew how to get rid of it—it was yours forever. “Carefully wrap the bottle in paper and throw it...

  7. Chapter 3 Creating Bottle Infrastructures
    (pp. 29-48)

    On the night of january 2, 1972, four men gathered around a hole in the wall in a small grocery store in Oslo, Norway. In the backroom behind the steel-framed, rectangular hole, they had just installed the prototype of a remarkable machine soon to be found in stores all over Europe. Next to it stood a shopping cart full of empty glass bottles that the men fed this machine. A conveyor belt transported the bottles through a hole and into the backroom. After all the bottles had passed through the hole, one of the men pressed a button on the...

  8. Chapter 4 A World of Bottles
    (pp. 49-69)

    In the spring of 1978, Tore Planke and Georg Ås, Tomra’s international-service engineer, installed a prototype of their new high-tech self-learning reverse vending machine, called the SP, in a small grocery store in the countryside in central France. It was important for them to test this machine in France, since this market had an enormous number of different bottle types. The diversity and complexity of French bottles posed the ultimate test for Tomra’s next-generation RVM, a machine on which the company hedged its entire future. On the other hand, they also wanted to test it in a low-profile location where...

  9. Chapter 5 Can Cultures
    (pp. 70-93)

    On May 2, 1996, aSeinfeldepisode called “The Bottle Deposit” aired on American television.¹ In this now-classic TV show, Kramer got one of his crazy ideas—to take empty cans from New York to Michigan so to claim the higher deposit. The New York deposit was 5 cents, while Michigan had a 10 cent deposit. The only problem with the Michigan bottle scam was that the transport costs were too high to make it profitable. Seinfeld’s nemesis, Newman, who worked at the U.S. Postal Service, cracked the code. On Mother’s Day, a total of five mail trucks drove to...

  10. Chapter 6 Greening the RVM
    (pp. 94-116)

    On the cover of Tomra’s 1989 annual report, a watercolor of frothing green and blue waves evoked associations with nature and the environment. On the inside pages, more serene watercolors of gardens, flowers, and water provided the background for the text. In the managing director’s comments, CEO Svein Jacobsen described Tomra as a “green company” and no longer just a high-tech infrastructure company.¹ According to him, packaging waste was being “drawn into the environmental debate.” A four-page section on recycling characterized beverage containers as “an environmental issue.”² Tomra had clearly taken a new approach to beverage container recycling.

    While the...

  11. Chapter 7 Making Disposables Environmentally Friendly
    (pp. 117-139)

    In the summer of 2006, a Norwegian advertising campaign played on TV, in movie theaters, and online, featuring two men—Norway’s “grand old man” Odd Børretzen and the young rapper Ravi—walking along a beach collecting empty aluminum cans.¹ Børretzen’s warm voice intones, “One little discarded empty can like this one is nothing, you might think. It is like a drop in the ocean—but without drops in the ocean we wouldn’t have an ocean at all—you haven’t considered that, have you?” The two men get into a tiny red car and drive to a small traditional countryside grocery...

  12. Chapter 8 Message in a Bottle
    (pp. 140-148)

    Climate change looms large in the current public discourse on environmentalism. During the Easter holidays of 2007, Resirk ran their new information campaign, stating how “Earth has a fever. We must all contribute to reducing energy consumption and emissions. Returning your beverage containers is a small but important contribution to a big issue.”¹ The everyday environmentalist ethos could not be stated any clearer: consumers could now combat global warming by recycling their empty bottles and cans. In the broader discourse on global warming, consumers are encouraged to use lowenergy lightbulbs, drive hybrid cars, and buy carbon credits to offset vacation...

  13. Notes
    (pp. 149-170)
  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 171-178)
  15. Index
    (pp. 179-189)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 190-190)