Lawmakers tour Can Shed in Cedar Rapids as bottle bill debate looms

Groups have long debated whether Iowa should change its container deposit law

Troy Willard (second on right), CEO of The Can Shed, talks about the can recycling process with State Rep. Art Staed (form left) (D-Cedar Rapids), State Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D-Cedar Rapids), State Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), and State Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) at The Can Shed in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Troy Willard (second on right), CEO of The Can Shed, talks about the can recycling process with State Rep. Art Staed (form left) (D-Cedar Rapids), State Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt (D-Cedar Rapids), State Sen. Rob Hogg (D-Cedar Rapids), and State Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) at The Can Shed in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — With hundreds of beer and soda cans flying through sets of conveyor belts, the owner of a Cedar Rapids redemption center explained to lawmakers Friday why he thinks the state should expand its so-called bottle bill.

Five state Democrats representing Eastern Iowa toured the Can Shed, 4121 16th Ave. SW, in Cedar Rapids, asking its owners how they do business and the potential effects of any changes to Iowa’s bottle deposit law.

The lawmakers included Sen. Rob Hogg and Reps. Kirsten Running-Marquardt and Art Staed of Cedar Rapids, Iowa City Sen. Joe Bolkcom, and Davenport Rep. Monica Kurth.

Under Iowa’s bottle bill, consumers pay five cents per container when they buy carbonated or alcoholic beverages. They can get a refund for the same amount when they bring those empty containers to a grocery store or redemption center.

As it has in years past, debates over the bottle bill are likely to occur during this year’s legislative session, which starts Monday.

A proposal last year, House File 575, would have ended Iowa’s five-cent deposit and created a $60 million fund to support an expansion of recycling. Grocers and retailers, including Hy-Vee and Kum & Go, largely lined up in favor of the bill.

Environmental groups and beverage distributors, such as the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club and the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association, were against it.

Can Shed Chief Executive Officer Troy Willard told the group Iowa should increase the one-cent handling fee that gets paid to companies such as his for redeeming soda and alcohol cans. Such a move, he said, would promote more redemption and allow grocers to get out of the business.

“It’s almost a 40-year handling fee. Whatever that penny was covering in the past, whether it was overhead for a grocer or the incentive for someone to open a for-profit shop, the whole landscape has changed now,” Willard said.

Lawmakers also could expand the law to include more types of containers, he said.

Iowa Grocery Industry Association President Michelle Hurd said Friday her members support ending the deposit law. They want to replace it with the $60 million fund and a “more comprehensive solution and one that deals with more than just cans and bottles,” she said.

”It’s time for Iowa to move away from the bottle bill. It served us well up until now, but I think it’s time to move forward to a more modern sustainable law that will help Iowa be a better place, a cleaner place,” Hurd told The Gazette.

Bolkcom, however, said the $60 million wouldn’t stretch very far. Local communities would then be left to pick up the tab of recycling efforts.

“I don’t think there’s any local government in the state looking to spend more money to pick up solid waste,” Bolkcom told the group Friday.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimates that 1.65 billion containers, 86 percent of the total sold, are redeemed each year.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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