Tina and Kelley Martin
Tina and Kelley Martin
Enough is enough.

Kelley and Tina Martin, owners of Martin Enterprises, are closing their redemption center at 100 Sumner St., in Decorah, in five months. They'll have new rules for their final months, starting in January.

"We've pretty much just had enough," Kelley said.

What started as serving a community need and helping the environment has turned into more of a headache than it's worth, the Martins said.

"It's weighed so heavily on the bad side," Kelley said, of the three years of business.

The troubles

The redemption center collects aluminum cans and plastic bottles labeled with a 5 cent Iowa refund. The Martins pay their customers 5 cents for every redeemable can they bring in. The state then reimburses the center 1 cent for each can.

Once cans arrive at the facility, they are hand-sorted according to distributor. The bag must be counted to each distributors' individual specifications.

"Every single bag has to be dumped out and sorted," Kelley said.

"Sorting is very time consuming," said Tina, who does the bulk of it. She "easily" spends more than 40 hours a week sorting the cans, she said.

It takes more time when redeemable products aren't cleaned and sorted as required by law.

Only cans and bottles labeled as Iowa redeemable can be accepted - and the law specifies "carbonated." That means aluminum cans for lemonade, for instance, aren't redeemable. The Martins incur a cost getting rid of the unredeemable products that are brought to their business.

"I'd say 90 percent of everybody (the public) with redemptions doesn't know the law," Kelley said.

Iowa's 32-year-old Bottle Bill needs to be updated, the Martins said. Proposals have been presented to lawmakers and have been tabled 15 consecutive years, Kelley said.

"They won't change the bill," Tina said.

"It needs to be 100 percent recycling," Kelley said. "It (recycling) needs to be more convenient."

Organizations and companies have spoken against the bill in its current form.

According to the website BottleBill.org, 13 organizations/companies have lobbied against the bill as it now stands, including the Iowa Environmental Health Association, Iowa Attorney General Department of Justice, Metro Waste Authority and Iowa Recycling Association.

Five organizations/companies are listed as supporters of the bill: Wal-Mart, Iowa Grocery Industry Association, Casey's General Stores, Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Stores of Iowa and Kwik Trip Inc.

Customer issues

While some customers make honest mistakes, others are intentionally disrespectful, the Martins said.

Tina said about two months ago, someone brought in a bag with a rotting deer head mixed in with cans. She's found diapers, rotting food, chewing tobacco and mice in the bags.

Some throw milk jugs or rubber balls in with their redeemable cans, so they are paid for a full bag rather than the actual number of cans they have.

Profanity and slamming doors have been directed at the Martins. Cars have burned out of their parking lot.

Not everyone is a problem.

Some customers, like college students, are generally helpful and respectful, they said.

"People who are getting a small amount of money are more inclined to put some in the tip jar," Tina said.

"Lots of people who came in and said, 'we're so glad to have a redemption center,'" Tina said. Customers comment that they like the convenience of having it in the city.


The redemption center accepts drop offs Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 9 a.m.-6 p.m., and Saturday mornings from 9 a.m.-noon.

Recently, the Martins have limited the amount of money they pay out each day.

"Once we get to that $700, we're done for the day," Tina said. That's still taking in 14,000 cans - more than 1,100 12-packs.

They've typically reached the payout limit by 11 a.m. on collection days, Kelley said.

Starting Jan. 1, the redemption center will not pay customers until their bags are sorted, the Martins said. Customers will need to return later to get their cash.

Martin Enterprises will continue to operate their repair shop at the property, which has been open for five years.

There are redemption centers in Calmar and Cresco. Stores are required by law to redeem brand and size containers they sell, according to the Iowa Grocery Industry Association.

See BottleBill.org or www.iowagrocers.com/Can__Bottle_Redemption_Rules.pdf for specifications.