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OUR OPINION: Fix the problems with Iowa's can deposit law

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If you’re old enough to remember when beer and soft-drink cans were first introduced, you know they were meant to be disposable. You didn’t store them in the garage hoping to one day redeem them.

You tossed them.

Now, they’re a key factor in the world of recycling and, once more, a hot potato among Iowa legislators.

After spending several sessions debating where Iowans can bring those cans and bottles to collect the 5 cents-per-container deposit they paid, lawmakers accumulated an unexpected pandemic problem: Too many cans and bottles, retailers wanting to get out of the business of redeeming them, and not enough stand-alone redemption centers.

Even worse? Owners of the collection points complained the current deposit was not enough to cover the cost of processing those containers.

Ten years ago, more than 200 stand-alone redemption centers existed. Now, because of a poor financial return on cans and bottles, there are nearly 100 fewer. At least 26 of the state’s 99 counties don’t have any centers, according to the Department of Natural Resources.

Recycling? Somehow it doesn’t take a legislator to realize that concept could go out the window just like those first cans.

In the closing weeks of the session, a House bill has proposed allowing retailers to opt out of redeeming the deposit on containers if they have a contract with a redemption center that will accept them. The caveats: the retailer is in a county of more than 30,000 and within 10 miles of redemption center or in a county of fewer than 30,000 and within 15 miles of a redemption center.

But does it make sense to drive 15 miles just to redeem a bag of cans?

An amendment doubling the handling fee and changing the distance maximums to 5 and 10 miles has so far gone nowhere.

Still, legislators continue to chip away at the bill, largely to please those who don’t want used cans piling up in their stores.

So, what do we do? Increase the handling fee, so more redemption centers don’t close. Make an effort to reduce the distance Iowans have to travel to return those cans and bottles. Recycling is not a habit that residents embrace.

If it takes increasing the price of beverages to handle the refuse, raise the price. But don’t assume Iowans are going to drive all over the state just to get their deposit back. The default is tossing them in the garbage, not recycling.

Put can return machines in places where redemption centers are in short supply. Monitor the situation and adjust. Don’t recycle old bills just to please new complainers. Fix the problem.

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