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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Changes may be coming to Iowa’s recycling law — known as the “bottle bill” — regardless of how beverage wholesalers and grocery stores feel about it.
That was the message sent by some state lawmakers Monday at the Iowa Capitol, where in what has become an annual tradition legislators are considering changes to the bottle bill.
“We’ve been waiting for years and years” for wholesalers and retail stores to agree on changes, Sen. Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig, said during a hearing on a proposal in the Senate. “I think we’re at the point where Iowans are going to have to win, and everybody else at the table may have to take a measured loss.
“Iowans want (the recycling law),” Schultz added. “You’re going to have to figure it out around the new provisions that we do.”
Rep. Brian Lohse, a Republican from Bondurant who has been charged with creating a compromise proposal in the House, said House Speaker Pat Grassley has given similar instructions.
“Everyone’s going to have to participate. And it doesn’t matter who says no. This is something we just have to get off the table,” Lohse said.
Under Iowa’s recycling law, consumers pay a 5-cent deposit when purchasing carbonated beverages in cans and bottles, and they can get that nickel back by returning those cans and bottles to a redemption center or participating grocery store. The law also includes a 1-cent fee paid by distributors to redemption centers.
Monday’s hearing was on Senate File 2122, which would, among other things:
• Increase the fee that distributes funds to redemption centers that accept recycled plastic bottles
• Shifts uncaptured funds — an estimated $48 million from people not redeeming empties — to the state’s taxpayer relief fund
• Allows more retail stores to opt out of the recycling program by refusing to receive recycled bottles and cans
• Shifts program management to the state Alcoholic Beverages Division and Department of Revenue from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources
In general, grocers and other retailers expressed support for the proposal, while distributors expressed opposition.
Bill Dix, a former Senate Republican leader who now lobbies for Fareway grocery stores, said the proposed legislation would sustain the recycling program.
“(The bill) holds the promise of preserving the bottle bill and making sure that it’s strengthened for consumers well into the future,” Dix said.
David Adelman, lobbying on behalf of Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association, argued shifting management of the program to state government will stifle private innovation, and that the legislation would cause the eventual destruction of the state bottle deposit program, costing at least 200 jobs at distributors across the state.
Sen. Ken Rozenboom, a Republican from Oskaloosa who wrote the bill, said he considers some elements of the proposal negotiable and others non-negotiable. He said he will not entertain increasing the 5-cent deposit paid by consumers at purchase or adding more types of containers that would be eligible for the program, as some have proposed.
“Every year we see proposals to fix the (recycling law). The problem, in my view, is those attempts never got to the heart of the problem,” Rozenboom said. “This bill gets to the heart of the problem.”
Lohse said he cannot yet offer details of the House’s compromise bill. He said he was charged with drafting a proposal that took input from all stakeholders, and serving two goals: increasing the fee to distributors and the number of locations where Iowans can return recyclable bottles and cans.
“In order for the bottle redemption law to remain sustainable over any period of time, we’re going to have to increase the redemption rate. And part of that discussion has to be more places for people to take them back so they aren’t just throwing them in their trash or their recycling,” Lohse said.
The state recycling law is popular with Iowans, according to recent polling that was commissioned by the advocacy organization Cleaner Iowa and conducted by the highly respected Selzer & Co. polling firm.
According to the poll, 84 percent of Iowans said the recycling law is good for the state, and 80 percent said the state should either keep the law as it is, or expand it to add more types of eligible containers and more retail locations where containers can be returned.
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