In preparing my remarks for the Environment Canada’s EPR conference in Calgary later this week, I re-read a paper written by Allan Vestal that appeared in the Winter 1993 edition of the William & Mary Law Review entitled “Public Choice, Public Interest, and the Soft Drink Interbrand Competition Act: Time to Derail the “Root Beer Express”?
The article tells the story of how the large U.S. soft-drink companies lobbied for and obtained exemption from U.S. anti-trust legislation, expressly in order to protect the system of independent bottlers upon whom the refillable bottle system depended, and maintain local jobs in the bottling plants. But no sooner was the anti-trust exemption obtained than the companies bought up the bottlers, closed down most of the plants, threw people out of work, and shifted everything to high-speed canning plants and single-serve bottling plants serving large regional hubs.
It’s a fascinating story of how companies can use their lobbying muscle to acquire useful regulatory instruments, and how the environmental argument about protecting the refillable bottle was used as a fig leaf to disguise market consolidation and the further externalization of packaging costs onto taxpayers and the environment.
The move set the stage for the re-branding of the throwaway packaging as “recyclable” and the many systems still evolving to cope with what was, in its heyday in the 1950s, a true industry-led EPR program for beverage containers.
You can download the document as a pdf file here, and enjoy it for yourself.