Replacing Iowa's bottle deposit law would increase recycling, backers say

Environmental Protection Committee to take up bill Wednesday

Tori Clair (right) of Shellsburg, Iowa, and Cynthia Vaughn of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sort aluminum cans as they move along
Tori Clair (right) of Shellsburg, Iowa, and Cynthia Vaughn of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, sort aluminum cans as they move along a conveyor at the Can Shed, 4121 16th Ave SW, in southwest Cedar Rapids on Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2016. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

DES MOINES — Backers of legislation to replace Iowa’s bottle bill say a new comprehensive, statewide recycling strategy would more fully attain the goals of the 39-year-old law.

The current bottle deposit law addresses just 3 percent of material in the waste stream “and we think we can do much, much better,” Michelle Hurd of the Iowa Grocery Association said Tuesday after action was delayed on a bill to replace the bottle deposit program with statewide “recycling, litter control and community enhancement programs.”

The House Environmental Protection Committee plans to take up House Study Bill 163 at 2 p.m. Wednesday. The bill must win committee approval this week to remain eligible for consideration by the full Legislature this session.

Hurd is part of the self-named Sustainability Coalition of grocers, convenience stores and beverage industries backing the bill.

“We’ve said all along it is not our intent to repeal the bottle bill,” said John Otterbeck, president of Iowa Beverage Association. “We would never bring legislation in front of this body until it was truly a replacement effort, something that was more comprehensive.”

The bill would replace the nickel deposit on pop and beer bottles and cans — with an assessment on distributors to raise $60 million. The funds would be used for grants and forgivable loans to assist businesses, communities and others in deploying “best practices,” such as expanding curbside recycling to communities not offering it now or retrofitting redemption centers to make them recycling centers, Hurd said.

Backers of the bill believe a statewide recycling program would capture more recyclables in the waste stream and alleviate dirty beverage containers being brought into stores where food is sold, Hurd said.


“The No. 1 reason people cite for not recycling is inconvenience,” she said. “So if we expand curbside and give them a more convenient way to recycle it will make a positive impact.”

Iowa’s metro areas have “very good, comprehensive recycling programs right now,” Otterbeck said. Unfortunately, cans and bottles — the most valuable of recyclables — are not part of those programs.

Residents of Iowa’s larger cities — Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, for example — have access to curbside recycling. In many smaller communities and rural areas that’s not the case, said Alex Moon, Land Quality Bureau chief for the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Based on numbers from the Iowa Data Center and DNR, Moon said 1.8 million Iowans representing 740,000 households have access to curbside recycling, compared to 1.3 million people in 542,000 households without access, Moon said.

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