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Iowa lawmakers aim to revamp state's bottle and can redemption program

Sweeping changes proposed to decades-old bottle redemption law
Posted at 6:35 PM, Mar 31, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-31 19:35:33-04

OAKLAND, Iowa (KMTV) — Iowa lawmakers are attempting to make changes to the state's decades-old bottle redemption law that was originally passed in 1978. Whenever Iowans buy a bottle or can, they pay five cents. If they bring it back to a redemption center or grocery store, they get their money back.

But the number of redemption centers and return rates have dropped dramatically. There used to be 300 redemption centers in the Hawkeye State — now there are only 60.

"It was year after year of legislators hearing from home that Iowans wanted the bottle bill saved," State Sen. Jason Schultz (R) said.

The Senate's bill increases the handling fee for redemption centers. Instead of one cent, they'll get three cents for each container. The hope is to pour more money into these businesses.

"The Redemption Centers are starving. They're shutting down one by one, county by county, and it's time we put enough money in there to get them back on their feet to cause other people to open new redemption centers or just expand the current ones with more locations," Schultz said.

But Sen. Pam Jochum isn't convinced the three cents will do the trick — considering all the Capitol needed to establish any kind of redemption center - even a "mobile" one - where you return the containers, scan codes and get the money back. Jochum also takes issue with the bill cutting the barrel tax on beer.

"The beer distributors get another $4 million break cutting your taxes this year starting in July. In addition the distributors — your Anheusers, Busches, Coca Colas, Pepsis — what they get to do under this bill is retain any of the unredeemed deposits. So we're talking if there's only a 25% return rate and there's 1.8 billion cans of beer and pop sold in this state each year," Jochum said.

"This was a conglomerate of interests that came in together. It's probably not the best policy itself, but the outcome of the bill is what Iowans want," Schultz said.

Under the legislation, grocery stores can choose to not take empty bottles and cans starting in 2023.

"They're not clean when they come back in, they can bring in a lot of diseases or whatever," said Charles Reed Jr. from Rubak's Food Center in Oakland.

Reed Jr. says the bottles and cans can be a "pain" since he has to separate them by company. But he's mixed about whether the legislation can provide help.

"If we don't take them back, they have to take them someplace to get their money. We don't have a redemption center in town, they'll have to take them to Council Bluffs or Atlantic. When they take them there, they'll probably just buy their cans and their groceries at that place," Reed Jr. said.

The bill will need to go to the House, which has their own version of the bill. A state congress member tells 3 News Now that the earliest they will take it up would be next Tuesday.

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