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Green Citizenship at the Recycling Junction: Consumers and Infrastructures for the Recycling of Packaging in Twentieth-Century Norway


This article investigates the making of the Norwegian recycling consumer-citizen by discussing recycling as both a cultural activity – an expression of environmentalist sentiment, an everyday habit and a social expectation – and a technological infrastructure consisting of disposal stations, legal frameworks, transportation systems and the recycling technologies themselves. Using a concept of ‘recycling junctions’ as a means of understanding historical recycling processes, the article focuses on beverage packaging to argue that effective recycling in the modern green state depends on a combination of technologically mediated convenience and green consumer-citizenship, involving a wide range of actors.

Cet article étudie la genèse du citoyen-consommateur recycleur norvégien en abordant le recyclage en tant qu’activité culturelle – expression d'un sentiment environnementaliste, habitude quotidienne et attente sociale – et en tant qu’infrastructure technologique, constituée de stations de traitement, de cadres juridiques, de systèmes de transport et enfin des technologies de recyclage. À l'aide du concept de ‘jonctions de recyclage’ pour comprendre les processus historiques de recyclage, cet article s'intéresse particulièrement aux emballages de boissons pour arguer que dans un État vert moderne, un recyclage efficace doit allier une practicalité soutenue par la technologique et une citoyenneté de consommation verte, faisant appel à des acteurs très divers.

Der vorliegende Beitrag untersucht die Entwicklung des Umweltbewusstseins und der Praxis des Recyclings bei norwegischen Verbrauchern. Er beleuchtet Recycling sowohl als kulturelle Aktivität – d.h. als Ausdruck eines wachsenden Umweltbewusstseins, als tägliche Gewohnheit und soziale Erwartung – und als technologische Infrastruktur aus Entsorgungsstationen, rechtlichen Rahmenbedingungen, Transportsystemen und den eigentlichen Wiederverwertungstechnologien. Der Autor verwendet das Konzept von ‘Recycling-Schnittstellen’ als Mittel zum Verständnis historischer Wiederverwertungsprozesse. Am Beispiel von Getränkeverpackungen argumentiert er, dass wirksames Recycling im modernen umweltbewussten Staat von einer Kombination aus technologisch ermöglichter Verbraucherfreundlichkeit und Umweltbewusstsein der Bevölkerung abhängig ist und eine Vielzahl von Akteuren involviert.

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1 Environmental issues are frequent topics in the annual National Budget documents, which demonstrate that a key goal is to empower the consumer to make sustainable choices. See for instance Miljøverndepartementet, ‘14 Resultatområde 7 Andre verkemiddel’, Prop. 1 S (2010–2011),–2011/prop-1-s-20102011/20.html?id=618815 (accessed 17 Apr. 2013).

2 Johnston, Josée, ‘The Citizen-Consumer Hybrid: Ideological Tensions and the Case of Whole Foods Market’, Theory and Society, 37, 3 (2008), 229–70.

3 Barry, John, ‘Resistance is Fertile: From Environment to Sustainability Citizenship’, in Dobson, Andrew and Bell, Derek, eds, Environmental Citizenship (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2006), 39.

4 See for instance Bevir, Mark and Trentmann, Frank, ‘Civic Choices: Retrieving Perspectives on Rationality, Consumption, and Citizenship’, in Soper, Kate and Trentmann, Frank, eds, Citizenship and Consumption (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), 1933; Chatriot, Alain, Chessel, Marie-Emmanuelle and Hilton, Matthew, eds, The Expert Consumer: Associations and Professionals in the Consumer Society (London: Ashgate, 2006); Cohen, Lizabeth, A Consumers’ Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (London: Vintage, 2003); Hilton, Matthew, Consumerism in Twentieth-Century Britain: The Search for a Historical Movement (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Trumbull, Gunnar, Consumer Capitalism: Politics, Product Markets, and Firm Strategy in France and Germany (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2006).

5 Cowan, Ruth Schwarzt, ‘The Consumption Junction: A Proposal for Research Strategies in the Sociology of Technology’, in Bijker, Wiebe, Hughes, Thomas P. and Pinch, Trevor, eds, The Social Construction of Technological Systems: New Directions in the Sociology and History of Technology (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 1987).

6 Cowan, ‘Consumption Junction’, 263.

7 Oldenziel, Ruth, de la Bruhèze, Adri Albert and de Wit, Onno, ‘Europe's Mediation Junction: Technology and Consumer Society in the 20th Century’, History and Technology: An International Journal, 21, 1 (2005), 107–39.

8 Oudshoorn, Nelly and Pinch, Trevor, ‘Introduction: How Users and Non-Users Matter’, in Oudshoorn, Nelly and Pinch, Trevor, eds, How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technology (Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press, 2005), 125.

9 Hine, Thomas, The Total Package: The Secret History and Hidden Meaning of Boxes, Bottles, Cans, and other Persuasive Containers (Boston: Back Bay Books, 1997), 6.

10 John Tierney, ‘Recycling Is Garbage’, New York Times, 30 Jun., 1996; Rogers, Heather, Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy is Undermining the Environmental Revolution (New York: Scribner, 2010).

11 Strasser, Susan, Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash (New York: Henry Holt, 1999), 3.

12 Rathje, William and Murphy, Cullen, Rubbish! The Archaeology of Garbage (Tucson, Ariz.: University of Arizona Press, 2001).

13 Royte, Elizabeth, Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash (New York: Back Bay Books, 2006).

14 Ackerman, Frank, Why Do We Recycle? Markets, Values, and Public Policy (Washington, DC: Island Press, 1997), 19.

15 Sejersted, Francis, The Age of Social Democracy: Norway and Sweden in the Twentieth Century (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011).

16 Helle, Knut, Eliassen, Finn-Einar, Myhre, Jan Eivind, Stugu, Ola Svein, Norsk Byhistorie: Urbanisering gjennom 1200 år (Oslo: Pax Forlag, 2006).

17 Jørgensen, Finn Arne, Tidens krav: Framveksten av det vitenskapelige husstellet i Norge, 1900–1940 (Trondheim: Institutt for tverrfaglige kulturstudier, 2002).

18 ‘Hvad er i veien med hjemmene’, Arbeiderkvinnen, 5, 1936.

19 Benterud, Gunbjørg, Knudsen, Ragna, Steen, Johanne and Torp, Bergljot, eds, Husmorboken (Oslo: Landslaget for Husstell-lærerinner, 1938), 95.

20 Jørgensen, Tidens krav.

21 Bring, Samuel E., Anders och Pehr Bjurholms bryggerier (Stockholm: Stockholms bryggerier, 1949), 116–17.

22 Jørgensen, Finn Arne, Making A Green Machine: The Infrastructure of Beverage Container Recycling (Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2011), 15.

23 Jørgensen, Finn Arne, ‘Coca-Cola bottle, prototype (1915)’, in Lees-Maffei, Grace, ed., 50 Iconic Designs (London: Berg Publishing, forthcoming 2014).

24 ‘Hvem eier saftflaskene – De selv eller Hansen på hjørnet?’, Aftenposten, 31 Aug. 1936, 7.

25 Cf. for Germany: Heike Weber, ‘Towards “Total” Recycling: Women, Waste and Food Waste Recovery in Germany, 1914–1939’, in this issue; for Paris: Barles, Sabine, ‘Les chiffonniers, agents de la propreté et de la prospérité parisienne au XIXe siècle’, in Corteel, Delphine and Lelay, Stéphane, eds, Les travailleurs du déchet (Toulouse: éditions érès 2011), 4567.

26 Torstenson, Inge, Fra nattmann til renholdsverk: Avfall og renovasjon i Oslo gjennom tusen år (Oslo: ProArk, 1997).

27 See for instance articles by Chad Denton, Heike Weber and Ruth Oldenziel and Milena Veenis, in this issue.

28 ‘Tomflaskeomsetningen gått tilbake til 10 pct. av det normale’, Aftenposten, 18 Jun. 1941, 3.

29 ‘Tomflaskene – vårt nyeste problem’, Aftenposten, 17 Apr. 1941, 2.

30 Letters from frustrated customers appeared regularly in newspapers. See for instance ‘Motstridende systemer’, Aftenposten, 1 Dec. 1927, 7; ‘Det totalitære tøv med tomflasker’, Aftenposten, 30 Nov. 1946, 4.

31 Torstenson, Inge, Ute av øye, ute av sinn? En historie om avfall og gjenvinning (Oslo: Avfall Norge/Dinamo Forlag, 2006).

32 ‘Kampanjen for innsamling av brukt kartonasje’, Aftenposten, 23 Mar. 1945, 2.

33 ‘Lov om tvungen innsamling av matavfall’, Aftenposten, 26. Feb. 1942.

34 Furre, Berge, Norsk historie 1905–1990: Vårt hundreår (Oslo: Samlaget, 1992), 198.

35 Witkowski, Terrence H., ‘The American Consumer Home Front During World War II’, in Alba, Joseph W. and Hutchinson, J. Wesley, eds, Advances in Consumer Research, Vol. 25 (Provo, Ut.: Association for Consumer Research, 1998), 568–73.

36 Hine, Total Package, 159.

37 Veblen, Thorstein, The Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Macmillan, 1899; citations from 2nd edn: Penguin Books, 1994).

38 Packard, Vance, The Waste Makers (New York: D. McKay Co., 1960).

39 Myrvang, Christine, ‘Fra knapphet til overflod’, in Myrvang, Christine, Myklebust, Sissel and Brenna, Brita, eds, Temmet eller uhemmet: Historiske perspektiver på konsum, kultur og dannelse (Oslo: Pax Forlag, 2004), 316–17; Østby, Per, Flukten fra Detroit: Bilens integrasjon i det norske samfunnet. STS-rapport 24 (Trondheim: Senter for teknologi og samfunn, 1995), 291.

40 Jørgensen, Green Machine.

41 ‘Øl på engangsflasker fra mandag’, Aftenposten, 18 Apr. 1961, 5.

42 Frequent letters to newspapers criticised disposable packaging as well as careless consumers and misbehaving youths. See for instance ‘Når samfunnet må overta oppdragelsen’, Aftenposten, 1 Sept. 1969, 5; ‘Vil vi naturvern?’, Aftenposten, 13 May 1972, 9.

43 ‘Ad: Engangsemballasje. Medlemsforslag i Nordisk Råd om ensartede prinsipper for lovgivning. – Deres 20466/70 H.5’, letter from Mineralvannindustriens landslag to Det kongelige sosialdepartement, 7 Jan. 1971, subfolder ‘Korrespondanse fra Industriforbundet til Sosialdepartementet’.

44 Dryzek, John S., Downes, David, Hunold, Christian, Schlosberg, David and Hernes, Hans-Kristian, Green States and Social Movements: Environmentalism in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany, and Norway (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).

45 See for instance Miljøverndepartementet, Resirkulering og avfallsbehandling (Norges offentlige utredninger, NOU 1973: 51); Miljøverndepartementet, Resirkulering og avfallsbehandling II (Norges offentlige utredninger, NOU 1975: 52).

46 Jørgensen, Finn Arne, ‘Recycling’, in Brosnan, Kathleen, ed., Encyclopedia of American Environmental History (New York: Facts on File, 2010), 1108–9.

47 Asdal, Kristin, Knappe ressurser: Økonomenes grep om miljøfeltet (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1988).

48 European Economic Community, ‘Council directive of 15 July 1975 on waste’, 75/442/EEC.

49 EC Council Recommendation 75/436 on the Application of the Polluter-Pays Principle, 14 ILM (1975).50. I have discussed the development of deposit systems for beverage container recycling in depth in Jørgensen, Green Machine. This section is largely based on this material.

50 Ot. prp. No. 77, 1969–1970, ‘Lov om adgang til å forby bruken av visse slag engangsemballasje ved markedsføring av forbruksvarer’ (Oslo: Stortinget, 1970).

51 Jørgensen, Green Machine, 127.

52 Resirk, , Pante- og retursystemer på drikkevaresektoren i Norge (Oslo: Resirk, 1990).

53 The debate had many similarities to Denmark's attempts in the early 1980s to restrict its beverage container market to only reusable containers in a return system, effectively limiting the possibilities for canned beverage imports. The European Commission took a strong interest in this case, leading to an extended legal discussion pitting free trade against environmental concerns. Vogel, David, Trading Up: Consumer and Environmental Regulation in a Global Economy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997), 8393.

54 Resirk, , Årsmelding 2011 (Oslo: Resirk, 2012), 3.

55 ‘Norge på gjenvinningstoppen: Brukte flasker blir nytt byggemateriale’, Aftenposten, 28 Nov. 1994, 10.

56 ‘Mer glass i retur’, Aftenposten, 11 May 2005, 16.

57 ‘Fakta,’ (accessed 18 Apr. 2013).

58 A Norwegian entrepreneur had developed a system for making and filling milk cartons as early as 1939–40. Robertson, Gordon L., ‘The Paper Beverage Carton: Past and Future’, Food Technology, 56, 7 (2002), 4652.

59 Norsk Resirk, ‘Gjør noe lite for noe stort’, advertising campaign 2006.

60 Dryzek et al., Green States, 4.

The author would like to thank Dolly Jørgensen, Arne Kaijser, Ruth Oldenziel, Peter Thorsheim, Heike Weber, Andrea Westermann and Thomas Zeller, as well as Contemporary European History's two anonymous reviewers, for helpful comments on drafts of this article.

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Contemporary European History
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