Remember the 1971 ad with the American Indian shedding a tear after witnessing the results of littering and pollution? You’d never guess, but that ad was funded by beverage makers like Anheuser-Busch, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola. Why? Because in the 1960’s these businesses were trying to shift away from reusable containers like glass soda bottles to single-use containers like aluminum cans and plastic bottles.
But single-use containers were causing a pollution problem, and the beverage industry was worried that would lead to legislation that would place the costs for pollution clean-up on their industry. So they decided to create an ad that they hoped would shift perception about the responsibility for the pollution from their industry to the consumer. It worked.
The appearance of the ad created the perceptual shift the industry hoped for. Perception about responsibility for pollution shifted from the packaging maker to the consumer (and government). Businesses could produce whatever packaging they liked. It was on the consumer and government to deal with disposal.
How do we fix this? I like the argument brought up in the Vox video below that if we shift some of the responsibility for pollution clean-up back on the beverage and container industries, that financial pressure will motivate the industries to create non-polluting methods to package their products. Classic economics. This model has worked to help reduce air pollution in California. It could work with other pollutants as well.
Below is a Vox video where I first discovered the funding information about the famous crying American Indian ad.