Multiple entities weigh in on continuing issue with redemption of cans, bottles

by Brianne Eilers

The holiday season is here and for many, that means finding themselves with more empty cans and bottles after hosting parties and get-togethers with family and friends. However, with fewer places willing or able to take cans and bottles, and redemption centers closing or struggling to keep up, many people are finding it hard to get rid of their empties.

Iowa is one of ten states in which consumers pay a bottle deposit on cans and bottles containing carbonated beverages and alcoholic beverages. Iowa’s “Bottle Bill” was enacted April 1, 1978, and implemented July 1, 1979, as a way to prevent littering. The program is under the jurisdiction of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

According to the Iowa Recycling Association website, only an estimated 71% of beverage containers are currently redeemed annually. Another website dedicated to the “Bottle Bill”,, estimated that around the year 2000, redemption rates were around 93%. However, during the pandemic, places were either closed down or were not accepting cans and bottles as a means to avoid coming in contact with the virus, and people ended up with large amounts of cans and bottles. Many of those facilities are finding it hard to gain the ground they may have lost during their pandemic closure.

State Representative Anne Osmundson of Iowa House District 56 has been working with other legislators on solutions to the current “Bottle Bill”, which has, in some ways, become outdated.

“The initial ‘Bottle Bill’ was enacted 40 years ago,” Osmundson explained. “How can you (redemption centers) do business at the same level? It’s not feasible. If we continue the program, we need to get them (redemption centers) more money.”

She noted that there are several different bills out there that would end the redemption program, each by different means and with different timeframes. This isn’t a recent issue in the Iowa House or Senate, either. Osmundson noted that the “Bottle Bill” has come up regularly through the years. However, the matter is complicated and there doesn’t seem to be an easy solution.

Some of the solutions that have been discussed include moving jurisdiction from the Iowa DNR to the ABD (Alcoholic Beverage Division). There has also been some discussion as to whether it would be beneficial to take the distributors out of the equation and allow redemption centers to take the product directly to recycling centers. Osmundson expects, and hopes, that during their next legislative session this issue will be discussed and hopefully a solution will be found.

Allamakee County Solid Waste Manager Dave Mooney said that his facility has been somewhat affected by the general public not being able to redeem cans at stores or redemption centers. While cans and bottles can’t be redeemed for the deposit at the County Solid Waste facility, Mooney explained that they have taken some cans and bottles to try and help out with the situation.

“We are not set up to handle thousands of cans,” he explained, adding that they have told people to take their aluminum cans to Postville, if possible, for redemption of the deposit. The Solid Waste facility can take some cans at the recycling center, where they crush them, but they don’t have the manpower capabilities to take on a huge number of cans.

Mooney also noted that they have run into issues with garbage being mixed in with bags of cans. They might get a bag where they’ve been told it’s only cans and then find out there’s food waste or other garbage mixed in with the cans.

“I’ve been telling people if you don’t plan on redeeming (cans and bottles), recycle them right away. Don’t hang on to them until you have a huge amount,” Mooney said.

Arden and Brenda Dickson run the Postville Redemption Center and they have seen a considerable uptick in the number of cans and bottles that people are redeeming in the last year. After being in the redemption business for 13 or 14 years, the Dicksons closed down their business for several months due to the pandemic, opening up again in March of this year.

As one of the few remaining redemption centers in Allamakee County and northeast Iowa, they are kept busy. The couple are the only workers, as Brenda explained they don’t make enough to be able to hire any help. She also said that while in the past people might bring in a bag or two of cans at a time, people now bring in pick-up loads or trailer loads.

There are also many different sizes of cans and bottles that have to be separated. Space can become an issue with those amounts of cans, as their redemption center is not that big. Many times, they find a lot more than just cans or bottles when they are sorting too.

“We get tired of the garbage that is in with the cans,” Brenda explained. She noted that sometimes the cans and bottles aren’t emptied out before they are bagged up and they have dealt with everything from household trash mixed in with cans to bugs and maggots. These kinds of things also slow down the sorting process. There have also been issues with getting distributors to make their regular stops to pick up the empties, but Brenda said that’s been getting better.

The Waukon Redemption Center has also experienced similar issues, closing on several occasions throughout this past year, at times to try and simply catch up from being overwhelmed after closure due to the pandemic. Ultimately, the ups and downs of the business have led to the current closure and an in-progress sale of the business, with future plans unannounced at this point in time.

For some local bar and restaurant owners, there has been a little bit of a difference in how or what is picked up, but so far it hasn’t become a huge issue for them. Vicki Bloxham, who owns the City Club in Waukon with her husband, Brad, noted that their cans and bottles have been getting picked up. She noted that the problem is really beyond the local redemption center.

“The State needs to revisit the ‘Bottle Bill’ and find a solution so that redemption centers aren’t losing money. They need to tweak it,” she said.

For those returning cans and bottles to a redemption center, Brenda Dickson has some suggestions to make things easier for those working in those facilities. Glass bottles should be put into boxes, not mixed in with aluminum cans and plastic bottles. Cans and bottles should be emptied and as clean as possible. The Iowa DNR website does state that redemption centers only have to redeem cans and bottles that are “reasonably clean, dry and intact.”

Brenda asks her customers to put their cans and plastic bottles into clear plastic bags, which also helps the Dicksons see what’s inside the bag and avoid any nasty surprises.