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Bottle Bill Now in Question as COVID-19 Halts Many Redemption Centers

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DES MOINES, Iowa — Though many restrictions are being lifted across Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds has extended the Public Health Disaster Emergency Declaration until June 25th. That declaration still includes the suspension of retailers being required to take back cans and bottles.

This requirement is a part of the Bottle Bill. It’s an over 40-year-old piece of legislation in Iowa. The bill requires consumers to pay a 5-cent deposit when purchasing a carbonated or alcohol beverage container and receive a 5-cent refund when returning the empty bottle to a store or redemption center. It’s all to encourage recycling instead of littering, but due to COVID-19 many redemption centers are choosing to close down and in return recycling in this way has come to a crashing halt.

“There’s millions and millions of dollars sitting in garages in the metro area, and barns and sheds in rural Iowa, that are not returning to the economy, not recycling, not recirculating and are waiting as pent up money to come back, but the people can’t use it because they can’t get at it. They want their money back,” Mick Barry, President of Mid-America Recycling in Des Moines said.

In a typical year, people will redeem and recycle 1.5 billion containers, according to the Container Recycling Institute. That amounts to about $75 million of redemption money that consumers get back annually. In a time where unemployment is skyrocketing, Barry said the people and the economy need these redemption centers, but so does the recycling industry.

The president of the Container Recycling Institute, Susan Collins, said up to 60 percent of recycled bottles and cans come from the 10 states, Iowa included, who have deposit programs. Right now, that material isn’t coming in.

“We do 97 percent of all the glass in the state of Iowa through our Des Moines [Mid-America] facility. Right now, we’ve lost 70 percent of that volume. It’s sitting in garages right now. It’s not lost. We know right where it’s at, but it’s not being recovered. In the meantime, the glass companies are feverishly looking for more raw material,” Barry said.

While some stores, like a few Des Moines metro Hy-Vee locations, are choosing to keep their redemption centers open during this pandemic, many other retail and grocery stores are opting to keep them closed. The Iowa Grocery Industry Association (IGIA) said it’s because the temporary relief of operating redemption centers has allowed stores to focus their efforts on many of the necessary extra sanitation and safety protocols.

However IGIA president, Michelle Hurd, said they would welcome a permanent end to the requirement.

“We certainly hope that this has really shown what we’ve been talking about for many years, which is the safety concern that we have with bringing these cans and bottles back to the grocery stores across the state of Iowa. So hopefully, this is a conversation we can have when [the legislative session] reconvenes next week,” Hurd said.

The IGIA recently petitioned the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to be excluded from the state’s Bottle Bill.

“We’ve talked about our concerns for many years about bringing these cans and bottles back to grocery stores, the place where you want to buy your food. I think that we’ve tried to work with others to provide a better solution for Iowans and really are committed to be a part of that. I think you have again the COVID-19 issue and you have the legislative issue here,” Hurd said.

Wednesday morning, Cleaner Iowa responded with their own petition to the Iowa DNR saying removing redemption centers from grocery stores would “overhaul Iowa’s Bottle Bill and fatally overwhelm the system.”

To Iowans holding on to their cans and bottles, Barry is asking them to not give up.

“To the folks that are holding all of all of their deposits, look around, make sure that there’s not a store nearby that is redeeming, especially in central Iowa since we know a lot of the Hy-Vee stores are redeeming. [If not], hold on to them. By putting them into your single stream [recycling], you lose your nickel, that’s millions and millions of dollars in Iowa and be reentered into the economy,” Barry said. “But bottom line is, it’s important to hold your nickels and redeem them and it’s important for the Governor to understand that’s important to the people, and she will.”

Throwing your cans and bottles into a single stream, or fully commingled, recycling isn’t the best option for the recycling industry either. Collins said her company has found that they lose about 25 percent of the recyclables due to contamination or during the sorting process.

To find a nearby redemption center click here.

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