Interview with the TOMRA Founders
As part of TOMRA’s 45th anniversary celebrations this year, we spoke to co-founders and brothers Tore and Petter Planke about the early history of the company. Check out our video interview with the TOMRA founders.
How It All Began
In 1971, Aage Fremstad, a supermarket owner Petter had worked with previously, mentioned the store’s problems in manually receiving used beverage containers. As required by deposit legislation in Norway, stores had to collect these containers for recycling and refunds. “We are drowning in deposit bottles, all kinds of bottles, and there's coming more and more varieties of them. So you need to help us to sort that out.” Coming from several generations of entrepreneurs, the Planke brothers saw an opportunity to put together Petter’s commercial background and Tore’s technical skills toward their own business – and a goal of helping the world recycle.
Tore used his spare time to develop a prototype machine that could automate the collection of drink containers. The prototype was installed in Aage Fremstad’s store on January 2nd, 1972. “Customers loved this clean and easy way to get rid of their deposit containers and get reimbursed. At the same time, the supermarket owners said, ‘This is my best investment.’,” explains Petter. “Then we understood that TOMRA has a future.” Petter sold 15 machines to other stores in the first month, and the brothers officially founded the company, TOMRA, on April 1st.
Interest grew abroad and breakthroughs came when the Swedish alcohol retailer Systembolaget, which also had to accept returned containers, ordered 100 TOMRA reverse vending machines. “That was fantastic, because that gave us the courage to invest much more in this idea and in the company,” explains Petter. A later model, the TOMRA SP (self-programmable machine), won the Norwegian government's export product prize in 1981. The award was presented by the crown prince – now king – of Norway. Another breakthrough came in 1984 when Sweden extended its deposit legislation to cans, and the young company had to deliver 2000 machines for the day the legislation was introduced. “We were even sleeping on couches in the job, we were working 24 hours a day. It was crazy - but we did it.”
The brothers share favorite anecdotes – from coast-to-cast coverage on NBC News in the US to surprise dance performances – and the spirit in the company in those early years. “I'm so happy when I'm here in the TOMRA building, meeting employees, I recognize the same spirit among the employees in TOMRA,” says Tore. “And the first one I met today, he was just saying, ‘Tore, it's so fantastic to work with this company. I enjoy going to work every day!’ And you know, that makes me warm.”
Then To Now
In reflecting on how TOMRA has grown from its early beginnings to today, Petter, now 81 years old, shares that they wanted TOMRA to be a leading environmental business even in the 1970s, long before environmental issues came on the international agenda: “I’m happy every day to think of the way that our dream from many decades back has become reality.” Tore, now 74 years old, marvels at the company’s expansion into further areas. “In the depth of my heart, I just love what I see in TOMRA today, and the way TOMRA is flourishing in this field.”
A huge thank you to the TOMRA founders for taking the time to share their stories with us during the company's 45th anniversary year. As the brothers conclude, “Better today than yesterday, but not as good as tomorrow.”