Government

Lawmaker hopes for bottle bill redemption in 2018

Tori Clair (right) of Shellsburg and Cynthia Vaughn of Cedar Rapids sort aluminum cans as they move along a conveyor at the Can Shed, 4121 16th Ave SW in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Tori Clair (right) of Shellsburg and Cynthia Vaughn of Cedar Rapids sort aluminum cans as they move along a conveyor at the Can Shed, 4121 16th Ave SW in Cedar Rapids. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

A discussion on how to update or replace Iowa’s 39-year-old bottle bill and expand recycling efforts continues this summer after legislative efforts stalled earlier this year.

State Sen. Randy Feenstra, R-Hull, said he’s having discussions with stakeholders in hopes of drafting a bill to consider when lawmakers convene in January.

BACKGROUND

Last session, Feenstra offered Senate Study Bill 1186, but it didn’t move beyond subcommittee.

The House version, House File 575, was approved 11-10 by the GOP-controlled Environmental Protection Committee after Chairman Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, promised he would move it no further in the 2017 session.

“We’re not rushing it. We’re going to take time and get this right,” he told skeptical committee members, including those of his own party.

He and Feenstra said there was an understanding among the stakeholders — grocers, convenience stores and the beverage industry as well as redemption center and recyclers — to keep talking this summer and fall.

HF 575 would repeal the 5-cent container redemption program and replace it with new funding mechanisms. Starting in 2019, beverage wholesalers would be charged 1 cent per container until $60 million had been amassed for local recycling programs. A separate tax — one-fifteen thousandth of one percent of the sales price — would be imposed on beverages to fund a litter reduction account managed by Keep Iowa Beautiful.

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Details on how the $60 million recycling fund would be used were vague, and it’s possible that coverage would not be universal.

Grocers want to regain valuable square footage in their stores currently occupied by redemption operations, but some legislators and recyclers have questioned if this new approach could operate at the same level of effectiveness. Recycling center operators, who opposed the bill, said it could force them to charge cities more money for their services, resulting in higher costs to taxpayers.

Historically, Feenstra said, “the bottle bill has done a good job of keeping cans and bottles out of our ditches and I don’t want to jeopardize that.”

But in recent years, he said he has seen an increase in the number of containers in ditches.

WHAT’S HAPPENED SINCE

Feenstra said he wants “to take it further.”

All options — from eliminating the 5-cent deposit to expanding it to cover milk, water, juice and sports drink containers — are on the table.

“We need to look at what refundability has done over last 15 years,” he said. “Maybe there are opportunities to do more recycling. I’d like to see redemption centers be more successful. Iowa needs to revisit this to keep more waste out of ditches and landfills.”

According to a 2012 Iowa Department of Natural Resources report, 86 percent of beverage containers sold in Iowa are recycled. The state estimates 1.65 billion containers are redeemed every year.

Feenstra said he has been impressed with the willingness of stakeholders to discuss options.

Despite his optimism, Feenstra knows there have been numerous attempts to improve or kill the bottle bill.

“I’ve ready every piece of legislation that’s been tried. There are a lot of pitfalls, and I’m not interested in repeating the pitfalls of the past.”

l Comments (319) 398-8375; James.Lynch@TheGazette.com

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