CORONAVIRUS

Recyclers urge Iowa DNR to reject bottle bill changes sought by grocers

Can Shed owner Troy Willard (second on right) talks about the can recycling process in 2018 with Corridor Democratic law
Can Shed owner Troy Willard (second on right) talks about the can recycling process in 2018 with Corridor Democratic lawmakers (from left) state Rep. Art Staed, Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, Sen. Rob Hogg and Sen. Joe Bolkcom at the Can Shed in Cedar Rapids. Iowa grocers stopped accepting refundable bottles and cans in mid-March as part of state-ordered coronavirus rules — which have been extended — and are now proposing changes that would deal a “death blow” to Iowa’s 40-year-old bottle bill, recycling advocates say. (The Gazette)

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources is being urged to reject changes proposed by the grocery industry that would deliver a “death blow” to Iowa’s 40-year-old bottle bill.

The petition by Cleaner Iowa Inc. comes a day after Gov. Kim Reynolds extended her suspension of the bottle bill requirement for retailers to take back empty beverage containers as part of her administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. She suspended that requirement in March despite the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finding no evidence to suggest returning the containers through programs like Iowa’s bottle bill poses any threat to public health.

The petition is in response to the Iowa Grocery Industry Association’s request to the Iowa DNR to adopt rule changes that Cleaner Iowa believes “would overhaul Iowa’s bottle bill and fatally overwhelm the system.”

The grocers’ proposal bypasses the Iowa Legislature and calls on the DNR to overstep its authority, according to Cleaner Iowa, a nonprofit created to educate and inform the public on responsible waste management, the benefits of recycling and other environmental issues.

Grocers have been trying to “silently kill the practical inner workings of the bottle bill,” Cleaner Iowa said, but some of their proposals have been rejected by the Legislature.

Proposals

One of the proposals would allow grocery and convenience stores to stop redeeming cans and bottles if a redemption center is located within 15 miles of their stores. Currently, retailers can decline to accept containers if a designated redemption center is within a 10-minute drive of their stores.

“Iowa has one of the best recycling rates in the country because of our bottle bill, which makes it convenient to claim your deposit,” said Mick Barry, president of Mid America Recycling. “If we make it more difficult to turn in cans, our redemption rate will fall, and we’ll start seeing much more litter.”

Under the grocers’ proposal, one or two redemption centers could serve the half million people who live in Polk County, Barry said.

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“Imagine all of them having to haul their containers to one or two redemption centers — the long lines and gas costs. Most people wouldn’t bother,” he said.

“It’s just as bad for rural Iowans,” Barry added.

Depending on where the redemptions center is located, “what used to be a 15-mile trip to buy groceries and redeem cans would now be a 30-mile trip,” he said.

If the DNR approves the changes, relieving retailers of the requirement to redeem cans and bottles, “it would be a death blow to the system,” Barry said.

Redemption center

Troy Willard, owner of the Can Shed that services much of the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City markets, raised a concern with the grocers’ proposal to waive a requirement that they have a written agreement with a redemption center before being allowed to refuse to accept deposit containers.

Under the grocers’ plans, they could refuse to redeem containers merely by telling the DNR there is a redemption center nearby.

“Without a written agreement between retailers and redemption centers, the DNR would basically be flying blind,” Willard said. “If a redemption center goes out of business, the retailer legally has to start accepting cans and bottles again. But if there’s no paper trail, there’s no way for the DNR to know what’s going on, let alone enforce the law. This change would let retailers shirk their responsibilities and hurt consumers.”

Timetable

The DNR has not set a timetable for making a decision on the grocers’ proposed changes.

Typically, it must render a decision in 60 days, but the grocers agreed to an extension.

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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