Business History Review

Research Article

The American Beverage Industry and the Development of Curbside Recycling Programs, 1950–2000

Bartow J. Elmore


Many people today consider curbside recycling the quintessential model of eco-stewardship, yet this waste-management system in the United States was in many ways a pollutersponsored initiative that allowed corporations to expand their productive capacity without fixing fundamental flaws in their packaging technology. For the soft-drink, brewing, and canning industries, the promise of recycling became a powerful weapon for combating mandatory deposit bills and other source-reduction measures in the 1970s and 1980s. In examining the nexus of business, envirotech, and political history, this article explores how American corporations enrolled government agencies to construct resource reclamation systems in the United States that became models for waste management programs in municipalities around the world.

Bartow J. Elmore is a Ciriacy-Wantrup Postdoctoral Fellow in Natural Resource Economics and Political Economy at the University of California, Berkeley. Working with Professors Ed Ayers, Ed Russell, Grace Hale, and Brian Balogh, he completed a dissertation entitled “Citizen Coke: An Environmental and Political History of the Coca-Cola Company,” which explores the federal-corporate alliances that facilitated resource extraction and reclamation enterprises in provider communities all over the globe. Recent publications include “Growing Roots on Rocky Soil: An Environmental History of Southern Rock,” Southern Cultures 16, no. 3 (Fall 2010) and “Hydrology and Residential Segregation in the Postwar South: An Environmental History of Atlanta, 1865–1895,” Georgia Historical Quarterly (Spring 2010).