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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — After numerous attempts for years, the Iowa Legislature has approved and sent to the governor major changes to the state’s 44-year-old “bottle bill” program meant to encourage recycling of beverage containers.
“I’m glad this is happening. It is time,” Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said moments before the Iowa Senate on Monday voted 30-15 to approve Senate File 2378, which changes how — and where — Iowans redeem their beer and soda cans and bottles to collect the nickel deposits they paid when buying the beverages.
“This bill does everything they want” by giving Iowans more places they could redeem their cans and bottles, Schultz asserted, adding that the bill doesn’t do what Iowans don’t want — and leaves the 5-cent deposit on each carbonated beverage containers as is. “They want that left alone.”
“Iowans love the bottle bill,” said Sen. Claire Celsi, D-West Des Moines, but rather than improve it, the Senate’s original bill was “just plain awful.” The Iowa House improved it, “but it's still not good enough.”
Improving the bottle bill has been a goal of lawmakers “since I've been here and that’s like a long, long time,” said Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who is retiring after 24 years in the Legislature. “But we end up today with a bill that doesn't do that.”
SF 2378, which will take effect July 1 if signed by Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds, will raise the handling fee from 1 to 3 cents per container — which Schultz predicted will lead to existing redemption centers expanding and new centers opening.
But it’s also what Bolkcom called a “sweetheart deal” for special interests, especially beer and pop distributors who will “collect a bunch of nickels that are never going to find their ways back to consumers.” The bill will let distributors continue to retain unredeemed deposits, which are estimated to be as much as $40 to $50 million a year.
It also will let retailers that meet certain conditions opt out of redeeming containers if they meet criteria that are common in many grocery and convenience stores that sell beer and soda.
They can opt out if they have an agreement for a mobile redemption system or are in a county with more than 30,000 people and within 10 miles of a redemption center, or a county with fewer than 30,000 and within 15 miles of a redemption center.
If consumers can’t redeem their cans and bottles where they bought them, they aren’t going to drive miles out of their way to redeem them at a center, opponents said.
That’s likely to make the bill “the first step of just totally eliminating the bottle bill,” said Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo.
Schultz countered that mobile redemption centers that could set up in grocery store parking lots will make returning beverage containers convenient and easy.
Reynolds hasn’t said whether she will sign the bill, but told Iowa PBS in February “the legislative process is where you need to work this out.”
“So maybe this will be the year when they get it done,” she said during recording of the “Iowa Press” program.
One Democratic, Sen. Kevin Kinney of Oxford, joined Senate Republicans in approving SF 2378. The vote in the House last month was 73-17, with Democrats and Republicans on both sides of the vote.
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