Oct 5, 2022 - News

Changes to Iowa's bottle redemption program prompts a recycling revolution

Illustration of a nickel with a beer bottle on the back instead of Monticello.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

Iowa's bottle and can redemption program is being revolutionized by technology that could eliminate the need for consumers to sort cans, multiple beverage and redemption officials tell Axios.

  • At one Des Moines test site, users simply put a QR sticker on bags for redemption funds to be automatically deposited into their bank account.

Why it matters: Recycling is becoming more convenient and far more sanitary. Automation could also help eliminate redemption center deserts.

Context: Iowa law has for decades generally required stores to collect empty cans and bottles and return customer deposits on them.

  • Grocers have struggled with the requirements, saying that bringing the empty cans and bottles inside food establishments runs contrary to public health.

Driving the news: Lawmakers this year overhauled the state's bottle bill to allow stores to retire their collection programs if a redemption center is within a 10 or 15 mile radius.

  • Starting Jan. 1, handling fees paid by beverage distributors to redemption centers will increase from 1 to 3 cents per container.

What's happening: Redemption centers are gearing up for growth.

  • Some processing companies are investing millions of dollars in new technology as a result, David Adelman, a lobbyist for the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association tells Axios.

Zoom in: CRINC, a DSM-based redemption business, has a "Droppett" test site that allows people to leave their specially marked bags of empties at a mobile redemption center.

  • New machinery that can count about 5,000 cans or bottles an hour is used to process the returns, using QR codes on bags to deposit refunds into a consumer's account.
  • Around 85 customers are using the test site, Doug Webb, president of CRINC told Axios Tuesday.

Try it: Customers have to create a Droppett account and use their custom QR stickers for returns to be properly processed. The facility is located at 1600 E. Euclid Ave. in DSM.

What's next: The locations and number of Droppett centers that will launch in coming months is under review, Webb said.

A photo of a can redemption center
Droppett, a mobile can and bottle redemption center, is being tested in DSM. Photo: Jason Clayworth/Axios

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