Iowa grocers ask permanent exit from bottle bill

Association files petition for Iowa DNR rule change

(File photo) The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gaze
(File photo) The Iowa State Capitol building in Des Moines, photographed on Tuesday, June 10, 2014. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

By James Q. Lynch, The Gazette

While an order by Gov. Kim Reynolds temporarily relieves grocery stores of the responsibility to redeem beverage cans and bottles, the Iowa Grocery Industry Association is petitioning the Iowa Department of Natural Resources for permanent exclusion from the state’s 41-year-old bottle bill.

The Iowa DNR has 60 days to review the petition. However, Deputy Director Alex Moon said the association has acknowledged the department’s request for extra time.

“I am under the impression that the petitioner is willing to allow time to let things settle down around the current COVID-19 situation,” he said.

Following the review, public comment will be sought and then the petition goes to the Environmental Protection Commission. In its petition, the grocers ask for language:

• Allowing them to divert containers to redemption centers within 15 miles of grocery stores. Current rules allow them to refuse containers by referring customers to an approved redemption center no more than a 10-minute drive from the store;

• Designating the Iowa DNR and Attorney General’s Office to enforce the part of the bottle bill that requires any retailer selling beverages in redeemable containers take returns. Many non-grocery retailers, discount stores and big-box stores tell customers to take the containers to grocery stores;

• Ensuring that every business that sells beverages in redeemable containers comply with the law;

• Ensuring that customers get their nickel deposit back. To cover overhead costs, some redemption centers are paying customers just 4 cents per container. That’s illegal, but many consumers are willing to accept it and the law is rarely enforced;

• Eliminating a provision that approved redemptions centers must agree in advance to take containers from stores asking for their services.

Legislators have considered giving the Iowa DNR and Attorney General’s Office more authority to enforce the bottle bill. Most violations, such as paying less than a nickel per returned container, are a misdemeanor and referred to local law enforcement and county attorneys.

If the grocers’ petition is denied, it can be appealed to district court. If it is approved, the next step would be to move into the formal rule-making process, Moon said.

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