Litter is bad, recycling is good.

Without question, Iowa's "bottle bill" discourages the former and encourages the latter. For those simple, but important reasons, we do not wish to see the law repealed.

Unless it's replaced by something that meets the same goals.

Passed in 1978, the law applies to all carbonated and alcoholic beverages. Consumers pay a five-cent deposit when purchasing a beverage container and receive a five-cent refund when returning the container to a store or redemption center.

According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, an estimated 1.65 billion containers are redeemed annually in Iowa.

"The current deposit law prevents litter and recycles 82,352 tons or 190,850 cubic yards of material per year - equivalent to a line of 784 large railroad box cars stretching more than 68,000 feet long." That, from IDNR's Bottle Bill Facts.

In a March 10 story from The Journal's Des Moines bureau, MidAmerica Recycling President Mick Barry said Iowa's recovery rate for containers subject to the five-cent deposit is 88 percent, compared to the national recovery rate of 29 percent.

Is the nearly 40-year-old bill in need of modernization? Perhaps. For example, we do not dismiss altogether opposition by the Iowa Grocery Industry Association to the fact grocery stores are required to accept unsanitary beverage containers for deposit refunds.

In response, State Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, vice chairman of the House Environmental Protection Committee, told The Des Moines Register in September he supports an "improved and expanded" law through which the redemption requirement for grocery stores would be eliminated, deposit fees would be increased and additional beverage containers would be included.

"This would assist our struggling redemption centers and encourage the opening of additional centers," McKean said. "It would be a positive step for the environment, economic development, and would make it possible to remove cans and bottles from Iowa grocery stores."

In our view, that's an idea at least worth additional study and conversation.

A poll of 700 Iowans conducted by Iowa-based Selzer & Co. in February showed 88 percent of respondents believe the "bottle bill" is good for Iowa.

We agree with them, but we are open-minded to revisiting the law so long as the focus is on identifying something better and not simply on getting rid of what we have.

Suggestions for changes or alternatives must be focused on the laudable goals of keeping Iowa clean and keeping the state a leader in promotion of recycling. We do not want to see the state take a step backward in those areas.

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