Abstract: Bottle Bills: Building or Breaking Business?

Finn Arne Jorgensen


Bottle bills were introduced in many markets from the 1970s to reduce litter, ease the burden on solid waste facilities, and encourage recycling activities. In this paper I will examine why bottle bill infrastructure systems succeeded in the Norwegian market in the late 1990s, but failed in New York State in the late 1980s. To do this, I will follow Tomra Systems, the global leader in production of reverse vending machines for the consumer return of empty beverage containers in grocery stores. This machine helps grocers by automating the demanding physical labor of receiving bottles as well as making bottle returns more convenient for consumers. But its introduction was not always welcomed. Through attempts to implement a technological solution to the recycling problem, Tomra became increasingly intertwined in the networks and systems that exist among global, national, and local environmental politics; the sometimes overlapping, sometimes diverging business interests of grocers, breweries, and distributors; and the often contradictory wishes of consumers. I will argue that the role of business entrepreneurs is central in creating the infrastructure and cooperative business alliances that make environmental policy work.