Redemption centers await legislative session in hopes of revisiting bottle bill

MANCHESTER, Iowa (KCRG) - An eastern Iowa redemption center says turning a profit is harder than ever, and the solution could come this legislative session.

Can Do Too in Manchester saw an influx of people when they first opened to the public November 1, 2018. For every can brought in, the redemption center makes one cent- making it difficult to turn a profit. (Aaron Scheinblum, KCRG)

Can Do Too is a redemption center in Manchester, and it re-opened November 1 under new ownership after it closed in August. But new ownership says as long as the bottle bill remains outdated, eastern Iowa may lose even more places to recycle cans and bottles.

A redemption center receives one cent for every can it recycles- that means it would take 7 million cans to make $70,000. For the new ownership in Manchester, it's taken them from confident to complicated.

"In two and a half months, we've gone from learning everything, to feeling like we knew everything, to realizing we know nothing," said Greg Rogers, owner of Can Do Too in Manchester. He said since since the redemption center re-opened, it has been busy.

"When we opened, we saw two and a half, three, four months worth of backed up cans in folks' garages that all just hit us at one time," Rogers said. "And at one time, we were two to three weeks behind."

To an outsider looking in, it may seem the influx of business means the redemption center is turning a huge profit. In Rogers' case, who also owns Lightning Lanes down the street from the redemption center, that is not the case.

"There's no profit expected in the business that we have out here," Rogers said. "I've done it because the community needs it."

Remaining redemption centers are looking for answers. Multiple redemption centers including ones in Dyersville and Independence have recently closed down, forcing people to drive long distances to turn in their cans and bottles.

Rogers is hoping those answers could come if the bottle bill is revisited, again, this legislative session.

"The biggest thing is to get the three or four large players to sit down and agree to a solution," said Representative Lee Hein, a Republican who represents House District 96. Those large players would include the grocery stores, the redemption centers, and the distributors.

Rep. Hein was recently approached with a new idea- one that would use a curbside pick-up or community dumpster as a drop off, and people would get reimbursed digitally.

"And then get a bar code that you'll slap on every [bag full of cans] that you have," Rep. Hein said. "You'll throw it in these redemption center locations, they will pick them up."

Rogers said he has looked into that idea for his business, but it still may not do enough to help him turn a larger profit.

"Based on inflation, cost of goods, and everything else that goes with it, that penny's worth a quarter of a cent, and that nickel's worth about two cents," Rogers said.

Rogers suggests a solution of making the deposit on cans and bottles ten cents instead of five. He said this way it will provide a bigger incentive for people and redemption centers to recycle and flourish.

"If you worked in a business and you were doing it for 40 years and you took a pay cut of times four, would you still be in the business? No," Rogers said. "And we're seeing a lot of redemption centers close because it hasn't been modernized. And it needs to be."

Rogers says there is one short-term key that can help: making sure people clean out their cans and bottles, avoiding bringing in any broken glass, and not bringing in garbage. He says in the meantime, that will help those remaining redemption centers succeed, cutting down time sorting through cans and bottles, allowing them to get more done faster.