Legislators in a bottleneck

Will increasing the monetary value of pieces of the state’s bottle bill increase the value of the program itself?

Iowa legislators are still trying to determine that.

The state’s bottle bill was a topic of discussion Saturday during the monthly legislative coffee in Creston with state Sen. Tom Shipley and state Rep. Tom Moore, both of whom represent Union County. People who purchase eligible containers are charged an additional 5 cents per container with the intent of having those nickels returned when the containers are redeemed.

“We had ours ready to go, they had theirs,” Moore said about the proposals from the House and the Senate. “We just decided to wait on it. There are three main points of difference, I don’t think they are huge points of difference, but they are points of difference.”

Moore said the House suggested giving redemption centers 2.5 cents per container returned. The Senate suggested 3 cents. That is an increase of 1.5 cents by the House and 2 cents by the Senate.

“How those costs are distributed between retailers and distributors was a little different,” he said.

Another difference is the Senate bill allows any retailer to opt out of being a redemptions center. Moore said the House only wanted places that serve food to opt out of being a redemption center to prevent possible contaminates from entering the facility.

“Most of your grocery stores and Casey’s that has the pizza would be exempt. It would not exempt Home Depot, Menards and those areas that don’t serve food but sell cans and bottles,” Moore said.

The third point Moore said are beverage distributors would be required to provide accounting for the unredeemed cans. Under the law now, distributors do not.

“There are multi-million dollars worth of cans not coming back. Distributors are obviously being rewarded. They are benefitting, profiting from those unredeemed cans. We as a state don’t know what the actual redemption rate is,” Moore said. “We think that is a pretty important piece.”

Moore said he is optimistic something will be agreed before legislation ends the session, scheduled for April 19.

“This is something 85 or 86% of Iowa public want to see something continue and be profitable for the bottle bill. They want redemption centers. We have got to do something to make redemption centers more profitable.”

Jeremy Rounds, who was in the audience, asked if people would be more motivated to return more cans if the redemption amount per container was increased to 10 cents or more.

“It wouldn’t have any traction,” Shipley said. “I’m not saying a dime is out of line, but I don’t think we would get people.”

Moore is not opposed to a 10 cent value and have 5 cents go to the redemption center.

“I think the dime is an effective thing. We’ve seen it Michigan. We’ve seen it in Oregon, we’ve seen it in Washington, I believe. Where they went to a dime and their redemption rates went back up to the 70s, 80s, 90s. The bottle bill is a tax if you don’t return your can. Plain and simple,” he said. “Raising it to a dime, some see that as an increase in taxation. I see it as an incentive to return the can. There are some in the House and Senate that would soon get rid of the whole bottle bill. I’m not one of those. Our redemption centers can’t function on a penny.”

Moore said a redemption center needs 7 million cans to make $70,000.

“That’s crazy,” he said. “I think by increasing to 2.5 or 3 cents we will make it more viable for redemption centers to be more profitable or more start up in areas they’ve closed.”

Rounds said he has picked up trash in town and finds cans more than anything else.

“I’d think it help a little bit, it’s convenient to take it back to Hy-Vee. But your bill excludes Hy-Vee,” he said.

Creston’s redemption center is open from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays. Rounds said he can also donate the cans to organizations that use cans as a fundraiser.

Shipley said he is not opposed to a 10 cent value, but it won’t create more returns.

“At some point, it gets to be a fear, if we push something people don’t want, we lose the whole thing. There are people out there who want to get rid of it all together. I don’t want to do that,” Shipley said.

He also knows of organizations that use redeemable cans as fundraisers.

Shipley said people in Corning have considered automated can and bottle drop-offs, but the progression of the idea is at a stalemate because of the slow production of computer chips during the COVID pandemic.

Moore said there are people who just recycle the container or put in the trash because they don’t have a convenient redemption center.

“We don’t have redemption centers,” he said. “If we raise it to a dime, those people are then paying extra for that because they don’t have the availability or convenience of a redemption center. It’s an increase in a fee or tax, depending upon how you look at it.”

Another unidentified person in the audience said he has picked up 60 cans in a mile along a county road.

“What do you make, $3? It doesn’t work that way. You got to get the price up,” he said.

This was the last scheduled legislative coffee for Creston this session. Because of changes to House and Senate district boundaries approved earlier this year, Union County will have two representatives and two senators next year.

John Van Nostrand


An Iowa native, John's newspaper career has mostly been in small-town weeklies from the Rocky Mountains to the Mississippi River. He first stint in Creston was from 2002 to 2005.