PELLA, Iowa -- Iowa's bottle bill has helped reduce litter since 1978 with Iowans recycling 82,000 tons of 'empties' every year.
Many Iowa grocery stores are now pushing to get rid of the bottle bill, and Republican lawmakers are helping turn the proposal into law.
However, if approved, the bottle bill likely will not be the only thing that goes away; owners and employees of local can and bottle redemption centers say they would be out of a job, and they would not be the only ones affected.
“They add up, one can at a time. We call it the diamond in the ditch, you know, its trash to one person but it’s a diamond for another,” said Sheri Cunningham, owner of the Pella Can and Bottle Redemption Center.
That’s Cunningham’s motto. She has owned the Pella Redemption Center for 17 years, and says over 30 organizations use her business to raise money.
She says last year alone, organizations that collected cans and took them to her redemption center raised $62,000.
“If the bottle bill should happen to go away then these groups are looking for other ways to raise money,” said Cunningham.
Cunningham is a single mother, and has a sister who also runs a redemption center. Their parents also ran a center before the sisters. If the bill passes, Cunningham says her family business will be no more.
“They say you can retro your business to support this new bottle bill, but we already have recycling in Pella and, you know, I can’t do that, I wouldn’t go up against somebody else, so I would have to fold and do something else,” said Cunningham.
She worries for her customers and the 12-18 people she employees.
“I have people who use it to buy prescriptions, so the mood of the customers is ‘don’t let this happen, please don’t let this happen,' and my employees are like ‘definitely don’t let this happen,'” said Cunningham.
"It’s kind of unnerving, I mean you base your entire life around this bill because this is my job and I have four children myself,” said employee TJ Markley.
Both Cunningham and Markley also say they worry for the environment.
“What are our roads and ditches going to look like? If we get rid of the bottle bill, we’re going to go backwards,” said Cunningham.
“Go to Wisconsin, go to Missouri, look in the ditches, I mean right now it’s just littered with water bottles,” said Markley.
“The people that come in and see me are like, ‘if there’s no incentive, we’re not going to do this,’” said Cunningham.
Cunningham says last year the center took in $800,000 worth of cans and bottles.