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Walk: Bottle/can redemption laws need to be fair

Walk: Bottle/can redemption laws need to be fair

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Stan Walk headshot


If Iowans desire to continue the 5 cent bottle/can redemption, the law needs to be workable and the law needs to be fair. All parties need to have some skin in the game; wholesalers, retailers, the State of Iowa and the general public.

Iowa would need to set up a new oversight agency, let’s name this agency the Iowa Environmental Protection Agency (IEPA). This agency would oversee and have authority to enforce the “new bottle bill.” This agency would need some strong teeth for enforcement.

Wholesalers and retailers would no longer physically redeem bottles and cans. The IEPA would set up “territories” where one company per territory would be responsible for collecting all cans and bottles from “independent redemption centers.” This company would run “routes” for collection as needed.

Here is how the program works: the wholesaler sells product to the retailer and collects 6 cents from the retailer for each beverage container, including water bottles, tea beverages and the like. Each week, the wholesaler submits electronically to the IEPA 7 cents for aluminum cans and plastic, 8 cents for glass containers; the 5 cents from the public, 1 cent from the retailer and 1 cent from the wholesaler for cans and plastic, 2 cents for glass. The wholesaler and retailer should be happy to pay the penny for discontinuing to handle the redemptions.

The public returns cans/bottles to a redemption center. The redemption center no longer has to sort cans/bottles by distributor. The redemption center pays the public 4 ½ cents per plastic and aluminum containers, thus the public also has skin in the game. The redemption center pays the consumer only 4 cents per glass container since glass containers are labor intensive.

The territorial “company” picks up cans/bottles from the redemption centers and the redemption centers are paid 7 cents per aluminum container and plastic, or 2 ½ cents for handling the product. Glass bottles the redemption centers are paid 8 cents per container.

The “company” has bid a dollar amount to be the exclusive company redeeming all cans/bottles and plastic containers. It will cost the company money to recycle the bottles and plastic but the aluminum cans are also the property of the company and will be sold for the aluminum. The profit from the sale of the aluminum is one of two incentives for the “company” to operate.

The “company” turns into the IEPA copies of all receipts for redeeming recyclables from the redemption centers and is reimbursed for all redemption paid out on a weekly basis.

We know from experience all cans/bottles will not be redeemed, thus there will be extra cash on hand at the IEPA. Here, the IEPA pays its operating expenses out of this fund and the remainder is distributed in proportion to the redeeming “companies”.

Before the program would be enacted, one of the state Universities could provide a study on the logistics needed to make the program operable. The program appears complicated, it really is not. Redemption numbers should be set by the IEPA as needed, not set by law.

Advantages: no retailer would be collecting the 5 cents and keeping the same as is the case today. Retailers and wholesalers are no longer handling the returnables, thus no labor costs and costs for tying up storage areas plus dealing with dirty and disgusting returnables. Redemption centers can operate at a profit. Our environment remains clean and beautiful. The vast majority of Iowans are happy for a workable program that improves our environment.

Stan Walk is a former Mitchell County Supervisor, He can be reached at


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