116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Proposals to change the bottle bill appear dead in the Legislature again this year, but that didn’t stop Iowans from offering their two cents’ worth on the law that requires a nickel deposit on soda and beer containers.
For 30 minutes — just a third of the time allotted for a public hearing on Tuesday, the House Ways and Means Committee heard from Iowans who offered a variety of opinions and prescriptions for the bottle bill. If there was a consensus, it wasn’t so much yea or nay on House File 814, but that the four-decade-old law should be maintained in some fashion.
Some wanted expansion to include water, juice, milk and sports drinks. There were a few calls for raising the deposit from a nickel to a dime and several more for increasing the handling fee to cover the increase in costs since legislators created the bottle bill in 1978.
Times have changed, but the bottle bill hasn’t changed with them, more than one speaker said. It’s “quite frankly a dinosaur,” said Fareway lobbyist Chip Baltimore.
“What's important to understand is this started out as a litter control program that predated recycling programs,” Dustin Miller, lobbyist for the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, told lawmakers. “It's simply become a separate sorting system.”
During the coronavirus pandemic, many grocers have stopped redeeming beverage containers. However, the grocers’ lobbyists said they are willing to work with lawmakers on options, “none of which include repealing of the bottle bill,” Miller said.
First and foremost, the handling fee has to be raised, said Troy Willard of the Can Shed based in Cedar Rapids, which has been in business 25 of the 43 years of the bottle bill’s existence. That would help encourage more redemption centers to open and for retailers to partner with them, he said in comments submitted online.
If the solution is money, “there's plenty of money in the system,” Baltimore said, referring to the unredeemed deposits held by distributors. According to some estimates, they amount to between $20 million and $50 million.
Distributors are the only entity in the bottle bill equation that must pay anything more than the 5-cent deposit, said David Adelman, a lobbyist for the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association. Under the current bottle bill, when distributors collect containers from retailers and redemption centers, they pay a nickel plus a 1-cent handling fee.
Despite widespread support for enhancing the bottle bill, action appears unlikely. HF 814 has no companion bill in the Senate, where Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, declared the issue dead for this session.
Despite that, bill manager Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, filed an amendment to HF 814 on Tuesday that would have retailers and distributors sharing a 1-cent increase in the handling fee.
“It all boils down to the consumer … to protect the consumers, to ensure that they can get their 5 cents back,” she said.
If nothing else, Lundgren said, the bill can go on the unfinished business calendar to keep it alive for further action next year. However, she disagrees with those who say there’s no urgency to act.
“To be honest, if we don't do something, I think people are going to give up on the intent of what the bottle bill is, and eventually it won't exist.”
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