New Iowa bottle bill plan would add water bottles, other beverage containers

Bill introduced in Senate would add 33 tons of containers to recycling stream per year

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UPDATE: Efforts to expand Iowa’s 35-year-old bottle bill have been renewed with a legislative proposal Tuesday to expand the nickel-per-bottle recycling program to include water bottle and other beverage containers.

Passage of Senate Study Bill 1247 would lead to the recycling of another 33 tons of beverage containers a year, create new job and business opportunities and extend the lives of landfills by an average of five days per year, according to Mick Barry, who has been involved in the recycling industry for more than a quarter of a century.

SSB 1247 would not change the current nickel deposit on beverage cans and bottles and consumers would continue to get their full deposit returned to them when they redeem the containers, Barry explained March 26 at a Statehouse news conference.

“The nickel stays a nickel,” he said.

The handling fee isn’t the issue for Hy-Vee, which operates 104 supermarkets and 21 drugstores in Iowa.

The used cans and bottles are “essentially garbage and we don’t think bringing garbage into grocery stores is a very good solution,” said Ruth Comer, assistant vice president for media relations at Hy-Vee.

The company opposes bottle bill expansion because it believes the system should be replaced.

“We believe there is a better way to handle solid waste that results in more containers being recycled and keeps dirty containers out of grocery stores,” Comer said. Hy-Vee wants to promote single-stream curbside recycling as a viable alternative to the in-store redemption required of current law.

The proposed change in the handling fee distributors pay redemption centers – an increase from 1 cent to 2 cents on plastic containers -- would benefit redemption centers. When spread across the entire redemption system the impact would be equal to 1.75 cent-per-container handling fee, Barry said.

That would help redemption centers like the Can Shed in Cedar Rapids, which hasn’t seen an increase in its handling fee since 1978, meet overhead costs that have increased over the past 35 years.

Owner Troy Willard said he expects the expanded bottle bill would increase the volume of materials he handles by about 25 percent. With 45 employees, he thinks the Can Shed, which operates in Linn, Johnson, Iowa and Benton counties, can absorb the increase. Smaller redemption centers would be more likely to add employees. He also expects more redemption centers to open.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Willard said after the Capitol news conference. Willard, who has lobbied for bottle bill changes for several years, said the introduction of SSB 1247 has reinvigorated longtime supporters like him and attracted new supporters, especially among environmental groups.

Gov. Terry Branstad, who wrote the bottle bill legislation while a member of the Iowa House, was non-committal on the proposal.

He wants to make sure all stakeholders are involved in the process, including the person who redeems the bottle, the retailer, the distributor, and the company that recycles the product, according to his spokesman, Tim Albrecht.

“The program has been a great success since its passage,” he said. “Any changes to the bottle bill should strengthen the program while protecting our environment.”

“We’ll give it the best shot we can,” said Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, who introduced SSB 1247.

House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, doubts the bottle bill will be expanded this year. He sees the longtime recycling program eventually moving in another direction entirely.

“The bottle bill has served the state well. It helps dispose of waste,” Paulsen said. “But things have changed since 1978’ when recycling trucks didn’t drive by most Iowans’ residences and plastic bottles were not a significant part of the waste stream.

The challenge, he said, is to make recycling beverage containers easier and more efficient by moving toward single-stream, curbside recycling programs already available in more than 200 Iowa communities.

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