The Forgotten Tale of the Heineken WOBO

We here at KegWorks are avid supporters of recycling. There’s only one Earth (until they discover Earth 2: The Sequel) and we’ve all got to do our part to keep it from turning into a nightmarish hellscape of sun-scorched deserts and teetering piles of fetid trash. Reduce, reuse, recycle…we like all of that stuff.

Of course, we also like beer. Wonderful, marvelous beer from landfill-clogging bottles and cans. Uh-oh.

Sure, people in search of nickels have definitely thinned the herds of beer vessel waste and the idea of recycling has become mostly ubiquitous in the United States. But sustainable living needs to be a planetary objective, able to be implemented by and beneficial for even the poorest populations in the world. A large-scale problem requires large-scale thinking to truly affect positive change.

Enter Alfred Heineken. Way back in 1960, he was troubled by two things on a trip to the Caribbean: the vast amounts of bottle waste littering the otherwise pristine beaches of Curaçao and the abject poverty and squalid living conditions of the island’s poor. Rather than perfunctorily bemoaning these problems to assuage a streak of liberal guilt, Heineken decided he’d do something. He’d solve both problems with one genius solution. He’d change the world.

Heineken WOBO Bottle

Upon his return to the Netherlands, Heineken commissioned Dutch architect N. John Habraken to fashion (in Heineken’s words) “a brick that holds beer.” This idea ultimately bore fruit in the form of the Heineken WOBO (“World Bottle”) that saw a manufacturing run of roughly 100,000 full and half size bottles (500 and 350 mm to be exact) in 1963.

Heineken WOBO Bottle

The design process for the WOBO was rigorous. Heineken’s wish was to create a self-aligning, interlocking bottle that wouldn’t require the expense or expertise of applying mortar for stability. This proved to be an impossibility and the eventual finished product was a combination of interlocking, mortar-secured ingenuity.

Heineken WOBO Bottle

Heineken WOBO Bottle

Of course, if this idea had really taken off, this whole thing wouldn’t be worth writing about because everyone would already know about it. Production proved to be costly and inefficient, leading Heineken to abandon his plans. Only two structures were ever built with the WOBO, and both of those are on the Heineken campus near Amsterdam.

Heineken WOBO Bottle

But doesn’t it seem like this is an idea whose time has come? Shouldn’t we have the technical know-how, streamlined production processes, and a greater understanding of the need to embrace innovative, imaginative solutions like this? Can’t we take the baton from Alfred Heineken and make the world a better place by drinking beer? I suppose the answer to all of these questions is the same: Hopefully.

[techtags:Heineken, WOBO, Recycling]


  • Rob May 30, 2012 @ 8:58am

    I bet one other limitation that held back more homes being built was the stale Heineken aroma that would linger in such a place. Can you imagine what the heat in the Caribbean would do to an already skunky smelling beer?

  • Hannah May 30, 2012 @ 9:16am

    Rob – You’re right. I doubt even power-washing each bottle would help in that heat.

  • Tom Legrady May 30, 2012 @ 1:23pm

    Nonsense. I’m a home brewer. I’ve reused beer bottles over and over. Of course to make my life simpler, I rinse bottles soon after I pour them, but on occasion I’ve acquired old bottles. A thorough soaking, to loosen the mold, followed by sterilization and rinsing leaves them clean.

    Of course these were bottles from friends, where the worst that had happened to them was sitting for a few days or weeks with beer dregs getting moldy. Randomly selected bottles may contain poisons which would require intense cleaning, not worth the bother for home brewing, bot not a problem for brick walls

  • Hannah May 30, 2012 @ 1:52pm

    Tom – Fair enough! Good to have a home brewer weighing in.

  • Ed May 31, 2012 @ 3:24pm

    Horrible business that “Earth 2″…

    At least these bottle lasted longer (and are more useful).

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