The Can War: Everyday Business History from the Perspective of the Aluminium Container

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperResearch


Aluminium cans for beverages are everywhere: in the refrigerator, on the shop shelfs as well as on the streets as litter and as slag in incinerators. Their environmental impact is huge. Yet, we tend to forget that our current can practices are the result of complex socio-historical processes, involving many different ‘sites’ and scales in a larger infrastructural recycling system.

In my paper, I use the history of aluminium cans for beverages in Denmark to illustrate the explanatory power of a business history with a focus on everyday objects. My purpose is twofold: First, I want to add to a can historiography largely focused on the US and highlight differences between countries. Second, I show the benefits of business history that takes taken-for-granted ‘non-objects’ seriously and explores the historical processes that created our everyday practices.

Concretely, I focus on the so-called Can War fought between the European Community and Denmark from the mid-1980s to 2002, a war that nicely demonstrates the intertwined nature of materials, politics, infrastructures, perceptions and practices. The war started with complaints from producers of beverages and containers that a Danish ban on metal cans for beverages was a technical trade barrier. However, others emphasised environmental concerns, litter problems as well as a world leading deposit system for glass bottles. When Denmark lost the political struggle, the defeat kick-started the development of a new return system run by a non-profit organisation formed by the breweries in cooperation with the larger supermarkets.

By analysing the Can War, my paper traces the entanglement of the metal industry, breweries, supermarkets, the recycling business, legislation, life cycle assessments, consumers, recycling technologies etc. in order to understand our current use of aluminium cans and wasting practices as the outcome of a historical process.
Original languageEnglish
Publication date2023
Number of pages13
Publication statusPublished - 2023
EventThe Business History Conference 2023 : "Reinvention" - The Westin Book Cadillac, Detroit, United States
Duration: 16 Mar 202318 Mar 2023


ConferenceThe Business History Conference 2023
LocationThe Westin Book Cadillac
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address

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