Keep and expand the bottle bill

Cans move through the recycling process at The Can Shed in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)
Cans move through the recycling process at The Can Shed in Cedar Rapids on Friday, Jan. 5, 2018. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

The Bottle Bill has been in the news recently after the Iowa Grocery Industry released the results of a poll it commissioned about the state’s container deposit law. The new poll’s results seek to contradict those of another Iowa Bottle Bill poll conducted this past year by Selzer & Company – widely considered the gold standard in public polling.

As a resident of Iowa and the president of the Iowa Recycling Association, I feel it is important Iowans understand the results of the recent poll do not tell the whole story. The claims from the Grocery Industry poll are below as well as thoughts from someone who’s worked in the recycling industry over a decade.

Finding 1: Update and modernize the current law to make it easier for homes and businesses to recycle their bottles and cans (85 percent favor).

I agree! In today’s world of convenience and instant results, we want things to be quick and easy. The recent survey, however, didn’t ask what price consumers would be willing to pay for this convenience. Making recycling easier will cost money, and those costs will be passed on to the consumer.

The Iowa Recycling Association supports modernizing the bottle bill by increasing the handling fee for retailers and adding more beverage containers (water, sports drinks, juice, etc.) to the law.

Finding 2: Encourage recycling by offering curbside or on-site recycling to all homes and businesses (86 percent favor).

This is a great goal, in theory, but in small towns and rural areas, which are a large part of our state, it is not always feasible. Putting trucks on the road to offer these services to all Iowa homes and business means costs (equipment, road maintenance, diesel and labor) that are simply unrealistic for many parts of the state.

While the Iowa Grocery Industry proposes to implement a $60 million fund to offset some costs, these funds would take several years to materialize. Furthermore, it is unclear who exactly would be eligible for these one-time funds. And though the funds might help with some program startup costs, they would certainly not be sufficient to provide and sustain curbside recycling to every household in the state. Again, that cost would soon be passed on to the consumer.

Curbside/on-site recycling has proven feasible in some more populated areas, but this is because enough recyclable material can be collected in a concentrated area to offset trucking costs and help cover the cost of processing – sorting, baling and transporting – recyclables. But even in urban areas, profit margins can be slim. Recyclables are a commodity, so prices fluctuate. When prices are down – as they have been recently – even urban areas struggle to make the curbside model work.

Finding 3: Enact a statewide litter control and prevention program (74 percent favor).

This is a great idea. That’s originally why the bottle bill was put in place, and it’s been successful at keeping carbonated and alcoholic beverages out of our ditches, fields, parks and streams and off our roadways. That’s also why Keep Iowa Beautiful, an affiliate of Keep America Beautiful, already has litter control and prevention programs (as well as recycling programs) in Iowa.

Both polls reveal almost all Iowans are aware of our current container redemption law, and the Selzer poll shows that nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) say the bill has been good for the state. The Selzer poll also found that:

• 89 percent of Iowans believe the combination of the Bottle Bill and curbside recycling is the best way to decrease the amount of materials being landfilled.

• 81 percent of Iowans wouldn’t bother recycling if the bottle bill ended.

Let’s keep the bottle bill and expand upon it for a better, cleaner Iowa!

• Shannon Meister is president of the Iowa Recycling Association

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