After the hand-cupping came the pewter mug, the canteen, WHEN ASKED if their family tree contains any
and then eureka! the glass bottle. Before the 1950s, most bever- Indian branches, most Americans will say yes. In my own family,
age bottles were re>llable. As late as 1960, re>llables still deliv- the putative native progenitor was said to be a great-grandfather
ered 95 percent of the nation’s soft drinks. But the beer industry, some times removed. Cherokee is what we were told as kids.
shifting from local small brewers to large, centrally located cor- Given the family’s deep Michigan roots this doesn’t seem likely,
porate producers, was >nding transporting all those empties unless someone took a serious wrong turn on the Trail of Tears.
increasingly expensive. They began turning to new “one-way” or As an adult I learned that this family mythology was common—
disposable bottles. By the end of the 1950s, half the nation’s beer though its most common manifestation is a mythic Cherokee
would be in throwaway containers. Many of them were ending matriarch. Considering this syndrome—you might call it delu-up as roadside trash. sions of Pocahontas—only fuels my obsession with the crying
In 1953, Vermont’s state legislature had a brain wave: beer Indian. Keep America Beautiful tapped into something very deep
companies start pollution, legislation can stop it. They passed a in the American psyche. But it took them a decade to >gure out
statute banning the sale of beer and ale in one-way bottles. It how to do it.
wasn’t a deposit law —it declared that beer could only be sold in In 1962, Michigan considered a ban on no-return bottles.
returnable, reusable bottles. Anchor-Hocking, a glass manufac- Keep America Beautiful openly opposed it. Throughout the six-turer, immediately >led suit, calling the law unconstitutional. ties, Keep America Beautiful and the Ad Council battled a grow-The Vermont Supreme Court disagreed in May 1954, and the ing demand for legislation with an increasing vili>cation of the
law took e=ect. That October, Keep America Beautiful was born, individual. They spawned the slogan “Every litter bit hurts” and
declaring its intention to “break Americans of the habit of toss- popularized the term “litterbug.” In 1967, meeting at the Yale
ing litter into streets and out of car windows.” The New York Club, they decided to go negative. “There seemed to be mutual
Times noted that the group’s leaders included “executives of agreement,” wrote campaign coordinator David Hart, “that our
concerns manufacturing beer, beer cans, bottles, soft drinks, ‘soft sell’ used in previous years could now be replaced by a
chewing gum, candy, cigarettes and other products.” These dis- more emphatic approach to the problem by saying that those
ciples of disposability, led by William C. Stolk, president of the who litter are ‘slobs.’” The next year, planners upped the ante,
American Can Company, set about changing the terms in the calling litterers “pigs.” The South Texas Pork Producers Council
conversation about litter. wrote in to complain.
The packaging industry justi>es disposables as a response to At the same time, KAB’s corporate sponsors made sure their
consumer demand: buyers wanted convenience; packagers sim- own glass containers and cans never appeared as litter in the
ply provided it. But that’s not exactly true. Consumers had to be ads. This hypocrisy did not go entirely unnoticed. In the late
trained to be wasteful. Part of this re-education involved fore- 1960s, a noncorporate faction within the Ad Council, led by
stalling any debate over the wisdom of creating disposables in the Dartmouth president John Sloan Dickey, began to call for Keep
>rst place, replacing it with an emphasis on “proper” disposal. America Beautiful to move from litter to the larger problem of
Keep America Beautiful led this refocusing on the symptoms environmental pollution. They threatened to scuttle Ad Council
T yohuinugssetohnact elaasnt dfotrhervoewr yaowuaoyn: tly habtu’sy tohnecpee. Brfuetcst opmroedtuhcint.g
rather than the system. The trouble was not their industry’s
promulgation of throwaway stu=; the trouble was those oafs
who threw it away.
At the same time, the container industry lobbied hard behind
the scenes. In 1957, with little fanfare, Vermont’s senate caved
to the pressure and declined to renew its reusable bottle law.
In 1960, the year Keep America Beautiful teamed up with
the Ad Council, disposables delivered just 3 percent of the soft-drink market. By 1966, it was 12 percent, and growing fast. As
was the Ad Council. By then it was the world’s biggest advertiser.
support for further antilitter campaigns. Backed into a corner,
KAB directors agreed to expand their work to address “the serious menace of all pollutants to the nation’s health and welfare.”
Clearly a more subtle approach was necessary. The Ad
Council’s volunteer coordinator for the Keep America Beautiful
campaign was an executive from the American Can Company.
With him at the helm, a new ad agency was brought in—
Marsteller, who happened to be American Can’s own ad agency.
The visual arm of Burson-Marsteller, the global public relations
>rm famous for its list of clients with environment-related pub-