Home / News / Iowa bottle bill changes bring slow growth in redemption centers

Iowa bottle bill changes bring slow growth in redemption centers

Mar 27, 2023Mar 27, 2023

Lawmakers last year increased handing fee to encourage more recyclers

Apr. 21, 2023 6:00 am

When William Dunne picked up the phone to talk with a reporter during the grand opening of his business, B&B Redemption Center in Cascade — he spoke over the steady plinks of aluminum cans being sorted into bins.

"I hate seeing them on the road," Dunne said Monday about the bottles and cans he plans to collect from Eastern Iowa customers.

B&B is one of a handful of new redemption centers to open in Iowa since the Iowa Legislature last year updated the 45-year-old "bottle bill." Major changes were increasing the handling fee going to redemption centers from 1 to 3 cents per container — which started in January — and making it easier for grocers and retailers to opt out of accepting empties if other options were nearby.

It's too soon to tell whether the goal of boosting recycling with the increased handling fee is working, said Troy Willard, owner and chief operating officer of the Can Shed, with redemption centers in Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Marion, Hiawatha and Manchester.

"We were up for the first quarter," Willard said of the Can Shed's profits. "But I would attribute that more to a pretty mild winter. When the weather is bad, people sit on that stuff and store it rather than getting out to redeem their containers. It will be interesting to see if that trend continues."

Willard is encouraged to see some new redemption centers open, even if it's happening more slowly than anticipated.

There are four new mobile redemption centers across the state, with two in the Des Moines area and two in Southwest Iowa, according to a new interactive map on the Iowa Department of Natural Resources website. Three of those sites — in Des Moines, Corning and Red Oak — are owned by Droppett, which allows Iowans to sign up for an account, drop off bags of containers and then get paid electronically.

The new bottle bill lets grocery stores opt out of recycling containers if they have an agreement with a mobile system or are within 10 miles of a redemption center (in a county with more than 30,000 people) or 15 miles (in a county with fewer than 30,000).

It's hard to tell how many of more than 125 redemption centers on the Iowa DNR map are new because the agency required all centers to renew their applications in January.

Newsletter Signup

Legislative & Politics News Delivered to your inbox each weekday

You will begin to receive our Daily On Iowa Politics updates. Add [email protected] to your contacts.

"There are a few new redemption centers out there," Willard said. "Mason City and Ames, which didn't have much before, now have a presence."

To opt out of redeeming beverage containers, retailers must post a sign saying where the nearest redemption center is located. Some Hy-Vee and Walmart locations in the state still are offering recycling, perhaps because they already have invested in the machines and get a larger share of the 5-cent deposit, Willard said. HyVees in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids have designated the Can Shed their redemption center.

Dunne had been working at a redemption center in Maquoketa, but decided with the larger handling fee he would open his own center. B&B not only accepts aluminum cans and glass beverage bottles, but Dunne sells candy, pop and crafts, including birdhouses and benches, he said.

He had a few people stop in with empties Monday and got a call from a man in Marshalltown who said he has a trailer full he plans to bring to Cascade. Dunne allows customers to bring in six clear bags per visit. Bottles must be in cardboard boxes or plastic totes.

B&B is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday; and 9-11:30 a.m. Saturday. The address is 1110 First Ave. E. in Cascade.

A surprise side effect of the bottle bill changes is that more people are donating their empty containers to charity rather than driving to a redemption center, Willard said.

"One of the selling points to the deposit system is even if it's not worth the nickel to you, it's worth it to someone else," he said. "There are lots of opportunities for fundraising for good causes."

Critter Crusaders of Cedar Rapids has turned Cans for Critters into a year-round fundraising push that helps pay for medical treatment for homeless or stray animals. The effort started during the COVID-19 pandemic, when people could not return cans and bottles at grocery stores, board Chair Jessica Hill said. As more stores opted out of accepting empties, Critter Crusaders has filled the gap.

"For us, maybe the bottle bill was perhaps more positive for us than for the average citizen," Hill said. "We hear people all the time say ‘Thank you so much! I didn't know what we were going to do with these things’."

Critter Crusaders has drop-off times from 5-6 p.m. Tuesday, 10 a.m. to noon Wednesday and from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday. The drop-off site is a Quonset hut behind 710 Center Point Rd. NE in Cedar Rapids.

Iowa's bottle bill deposit law covers all carbonated and alcoholic beverages. This includes beer, wine, alcoholic liquor, sparkling water and "similar carbonated soft drinks." The state ruled kombucha containers are covered under the deposit law because kombucha has natural carbonation from fermentation, said Troy Willard, owner and CEO of the Can Shed.

"It's really confusing because you can have a carbonated Rockstar energy drink that comes in an orange container and Monster in an orange container that does not (have carbonation)," Willard said.

While many Iowans hoped the 2022 bottle bill overhaul would include an expansion into containers that hold water, juice or other non-carbonated beverages, these containers do not have a 5-cent deposit.

Comments: (319) 339-3157; [email protected]

Newsletter Signup