Hy-Vee Mulling Ban on Empty Cans and Bottles at Iowa Stores

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa - Hy-Vee is looking at banning returned cans and bottles from at least some of its stores.

Company spokeswoman Ruth Mitchell told Progressive Grocer that decisions to shut down recycled container redemption programs would be made on a "store-by-store or market-by-market basis." The Des Moines Register earlier this week reported that Hy-Vee was considering banning returned containers from its 103 stores in Iowa, and would instead redirect recyclers to designated redemption centers.

Mitchell said Hy-Vee stores that don't ban empty cans and bottles would most likely implement stricter rules, such as requiring people to bring in only cleaned, sorted containers. Such rules would not apply at Hy-Vee stores with automatic redemption machines, however, she said, adding that the company at present has no official overall redemption policy. A few Hy-Vee stores have had designated redemption centers for a while, but none of the stores considering making the change have yet turned customers away, she said.

Concerns about store cleanliness are a major factor behind the chain's deliberations over a ban. Mitchell said many stores now receive huge amounts of bottles and cans that have been collected from refuse containers and brought to the stores.

Hy-Vee's concern over the issue comes in the wake of Boone, Iowa-based Fareway Stores, Inc.'s recent decision to stop accepting empty cans and bottles. Fareway has about 80 stores in the state.

Retailers have had difficulties with the state's 1978 law governing the collection of empty beverage containers, which requires stores that no longer accept them to appoint a nearby redemption center. The state must approve the center as being conveniently located and open at least 20 hours a week, including four hours on weekends or after 6:00 p.m.

While some redemption center owners say grocers don't want to accept empty bottles and cans anymore because the one-cent handling fee isn't enough to cover expenses, store operators maintain sanitation is their main motive; they could raise beer or soda prices to cover redemption program costs.

The nine states with "bottle bills" similar to Iowa's are California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont. Hawaii enacted such a law in 2002, but it's not scheduled for implementation until next year.

-- Bridget Goldschmidt
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