On the Side| Brad Hicks

 The Iowa Legislature has not changed the state’s can and bottle redemption law since its inception in 1978, when it passed a law to clean up the environment. 

The law requires Iowans to pay a nickel for specified beverage cans and bottles. Upon returning them, the purchaser gets his or her nickel refunded, and the organization which takes in the container then receives six cents – five to cover the refund and one to cover the costs of the operation.

The law’s impact on the environment has been positive. There are far fewer containers in our ditches and landfills.

But, there are problems, and politics are in the way.

People weren’t drinking much in the way of bottled water in the late 1970s because it was rarely available that way. The law has never been updated to take into account those containers. You can find empty water bottles on streets throughout any Iowa town. 

That sixth cent that vendors received in 1978 to help offset their costs of redemption hasn’t been changed. Are there any retail operations today charging the same amount as was charged in 1978? There is evidence everywhere that isn’t enough. Redemption centers open and close as the sun rises and sets. Non-profits take on the task but have to be subsidized to make it work. 

Most grocers don’t want the used cans inside their stores due to health concerns, but it’s also not profitable.

Red Oak Rotarians and Optimists visited with two local lawmakers last month and requested they do something. It isn’t that easy, they told the members of the clubs that collect, sort, and redeem the cans with Nishna Product-ions here. There are big distribution companies that don’t want to pay more. There are corporations that, if the penny is raised, will likely install machines to handle the cans and bottles and take the business away from the non-profits because, well, it would then be profitable, the lawmakers said. 

Rep. David Sieck, R-Glenwood, empathized with the visitors but said there were four bills a year ago and no one could reach a consensus. 

For Nishna, the redemption process is one that can provide employment to the challenged in our society. For the service clubs, the redemption provides money used for local scholarships and other projects. It’s a win-win.

So here’s an idea. Create legislation that would require redemption be done through a non-profit, if a local one is available and capable. Otherwise, a commercial endeavor can intercede. Raise the deposit so at least two cents goes back to the vendor, and put a sunset on it so lawmakers have to review it every so often, say five years. 

The corporate folks who make campaign donations to keep things as they are will get their noses out of joint. So what? Instead of kowtowing, let’s just buck up and do the right thing.


Brad Hicks is publisher of The Express. Reach him at publisher@redoakexpress.com

The Red Oak Express

2012 Commerce Drive
P.O. Box 377
Red Oak, IA 51566
Phone: 712-623-2566 Fax: 712-623-2568

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