Local change creates challenges

Rachael Keating/Clinton HeraldA sign hangs on a door at Jewel in Clinton on Tuesday letting customers know the store is no longer taking used cans and directing them to a redemption center.

Rachael Keating 2018

CLINTON — For nearly 40 years, Iowa’s bottle law has been in place to keep the state’s ditches litter free and reduce the amount of recyclable items ending up in landfills.

The 5-cent redemption for customers who bring in their cans and bottles, and one-cent handler’s fee, originally had a “pretty dramatic effect,” says State Sen. Rita Hart, D-Wheatland. However, that fee has not changed and now there’s a “collection problem,” said Hart, adding that various redemption centers in the state have gone out of business.

At the same time, local grocery stores have been wanting to get away from can and bottle collection. The Iowa Grocery Industry Association claims that collection at food stores is unsanitary, and requires employees to divert attention from in-store work.

“Grocery stores are not happy at all about redeeming beverage containers,” said Bill Blum, program planner at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. “They say it’s a mess and a hassle… (they) just don’t like it.”

It all has local residents wondering where to redeem their empty cans.

Under a consent collector agreement, which is not new and is a part of state statute, the Main Avenue Redemption Center at 1621 Main Ave. in early February was issued an approved certification as a bottle and can redemption center by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, making it the consent collector for Clinton’s grocery stores. Jewel and Wal-Mart now have stopped can redemption at their stores; Hy-Vee is weaning off the practice.

Amy McCoy, director of communications for Hy-Vee, said the move to send cans to the redemption center is being made to ramp up customer service. She said that the Clinton Hy-Vee store now “can focus its efforts on the in-store shopping experience.”

It’s an issue that’s been on the horizon for years as grocers have said they wanted to get away from redeeming those recyclables, which are used for carbonated drinks and alcoholic beverages. And the Iowa Department of Natural Resources – through a Waste Characterization Study – has detected a decrease in the number of containers recovered through the bottle deposit since 2007.

Supporters of modernizing the bottle law also believe the law isn’t working because of the change in beverage containers – non-deposit water and sports drink containers that are not covered in the bottle bill can be thrown away with more ease.

The Iowa Grocery Industry Association would like to see the bottle bill repealed and replaced with another program encouraging recycling. Blum said the state’s interest is keeping the material out of the roadside and Iowa landfills, and the state wants to maximize the amount of recyclables.

Work is being done by lawmakers to address the issue. House File 2155, co-sponsored by Rep. Mary Wolfe, D-Clinton, and Republican leaders in the House, aimed to expand the containers accepted and increase the handling fee for retailers and redemption centers. While it died this session in the House’s Environmental Protection Committee, the House is continuing work on the topic.

“It’s a complicated issue,” Hart said. “We need everybody at the table to figure out how to address each of (the) concerns.”

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