Pop history: The Soft Drink Story Behind Recycling

By Ellen Moorhouse, August 17, 2012

Seeing all of those blue bins lined up curbside makes us feel environmentally virtuous, doesn’t it? Well, once we understand some of the historical horse-trading that went on to get recycling put in place, we may not be quite so smug.

One of the best sources on this subject is David McRobert, who I’ve spoken to before. He has recently published e-books through amazon.com’s CreateSpace. They are essentially compendiums of studies, papers, presentations, even a draft master’s thesis that he wrote in law school. (Disclosure here: One of the books includes a Trash Talk column.)

It was an agreement in 1985 between the provincial government and soft drink companies that allowed them to cut their use of refillable bottles and helped lay the foundation for municipal recycling…
Photo credit: Ellen Moorhouse

McRobert — a lawyer, former civil servant, environmentalist and teacher — was either in the middle of the fray or sat ringside as recycling evolved. He has worked at Pollution Probe, focusing on waste management and climate change, and the Ontario Environment Ministry, helped develop blue box regulations and was in-house counsel for the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario for 16 years.

He is a fervent supporter of the first two of the three Rs — reduce and reuse — and believes our policies should promote these before recycling. He also is not shy of controversy. He has titled his blue box book: My Municipal Recycling Program Made Me Fat and Sick.Why? Blue box funding traces its origins in Ontario to the battle over quotas for the use of refillable bottles for soft drinks. The provincial government let the industry off the hook on reusable containers in return for money directed toward recycling.

The result: soft drink makers saved bundles of money, achieved efficiencies, could sell larger bottle sizes and keep prices low. McRobert suggests, as a result, pop displaced more healthy alternatives, and studies have found a correlation between soft drink consumption, obesity and health issues. Thus, McRobert’s inflammatory title.

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