New push to expand Iowa's bottle-deposit bill

House plan would cover more containers

Troy Willard owner of the Can Shed holds an award from the Iowa Recycling Association as he stands near stacks of compressed aluminum cans at the business at 4121 16th Ave SW in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
Troy Willard owner of the Can Shed holds an award from the Iowa Recycling Association as he stands near stacks of compressed aluminum cans at the business at 4121 16th Ave SW in southwest Cedar Rapids, Iowa, on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — A bipartisan group of House members on Tuesday proposed legislation to expand and enhance Iowa’s 40-year-old bottle-deposit law to cover more beverage containers and boost the financial incentives for struggling redemption centers.

Rep. Andy McKean, R-Anamosa, vice chairman of the House Environmental Protection Committee, said more than 40 state representatives have signed onto the measure — slated to be introduced Wednesday — that seeks to modernize and improve Iowa’s bottle bill that dates back to former Gov. Robert Ray.

“The bottle bill is one of the things that makes Iowa special and sets us apart as an environmental leader,” McKean told a Statehouse news conference. “This is the time to enhance it and expand it, not eliminate it.”

The House measure would preserve the current 5-cent deposit on bottles and cans containing alcoholic beverages and carbonated drinks, and it would also expand the list of covered containers to include teas, water, juice and sports drinks.

Grocery stores would still be required to redeem beverage containers unless there is a redemption center within one mile of their locations.

Another feature of the legislation would increase from 1 cent to 2 cents the handling fee for retailers and redemption centers that has not changed since the 1978 law’s inception — a change McKean said would help keep about 125 centers in business while encouraging redemption businesses to open and lessen the return traffic at grocery stores.

While distributors would be losing a penny in the deposit transaction, McKean said the economic trade-off would be a higher volume of beverage containers.

Rep. Chuck Isenhart, D-Dubuque, ranking member of the House Environmental Protection Committee, said the 1978 law needs to be upgraded to reflect the evolution in consumer tastes, changes in product packaging and the economics of recycling.

The popular deposit law has had public participation “at rates we can only dream of with other voluntary programs,” he added.

“More Iowans are becoming interested in comprehensive materials management policies and programs. The goal of reducing, reusing, recycling and rethinking our consumption of natural resources is a noble one worthy of concerted legislative attention,” Isenhart noted.

Troy Willard of the Can Shed Redemption center in Cedar Rapids said Tuesday felt like the movie “Groundhog Day” for him at the Capitol because he has made so many treks to Des Moines advocating for the changes envisioned in the bipartisan bill.

“Since starting my business 20 years ago, I have seen the bottle bill save billions of cans, plastic and glass bottles from ending up in the landfill,” Willard told the news conference. “This legislation will modernize Iowa’s bottle bill program, increasing access to recycling and allowing more opportunities for consumers and businesses to participate in keeping Iowa clean.”

Opponents, led by the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, have lobbied to repeal the law, complaining about filth that comes into their stores with the empty containers they must accept from customers who return them for the nickel deposits.

An unsuccessful push was made in the House last year to replace the bottle deposit requirement with an expanded statewide recycling and litter control program that would eliminate the need for grocers to redeem cans and bottles.

McKean countered opponents Tuesday, saying the bottle bill “works. and it doesn’t cost Iowa a dime. It’s not a Republican bill. It’s not a Democratic bill. It’s an Iowa bill.” Sen. Ken Rozenboom, R-Oskaloosa, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee, declined to comment until he’d had a chance to read the House proposal.

“Ever since I’ve been up here there have been ideas floated around,” Rozenboom said. “I’m interested in looking at it and learning more about it but until then, it’s hard to pass judgment on it.

“I think we need to find a solution to this,” he added. “We’ll see how it plays out.”

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