Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Crying Indian Ad

"Some people have a deep abiding respect for the natural beauty that was once this nation... and some people don't."

This is an amazing 1970s-era Indiansploitation bit from Keep America Beautiful, a PR front for the nation's beverage industries and other manufacturers of pre-consumer litter. Paradise is lost! Shed a solitary tear!

It was a tremendously popular ad. It was produced in an era when a slew of states passed or were considering mandatory bottle deposit laws, which make packaged drinks more expensive up front but boost recycling rates considerably. Maine's status as a national leader in recycling rates comes in large measure due to its comprehensive deposit law, which mandates at least a five-cent return on virtually every bottled beverage except milk.

Since the 1970s, though, few new bottle deposit laws have been passed, thanks to the efforts of the lobbyists behind the Keep America Beautiful campaigns. Make no mistake: the industry spends orders of magnitude more on PR campaigns like this one than they do on actual litter prevention.

Even in states like Maine, the old deposit laws are quickly growing obsolete. Five cents doesn't have the same value it had in 1976, and recycling rates are declining. Society would probably be better off with a 25 cent deposit that would rise with inflation: we'd have less litter, more recycling, and we'd merely be reinstating the original intent of our bottle bills. It might make perfect sense, but we'll probably drown in the beverage industry's crocodile tears before it ever happens.

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