Iowa Senate Subcommittee Advances Plan to Let Grocers Opt Out of the Bottle Bill

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Nicole Welle | February 22, 2021

An Iowa Senate subcommittee passed legislation last week that would allow grocers to stop accepting cans and bottles if they are within 20 miles of the nearest redemption center.

The bill’s purpose is to address the concerns of grocers and other beverage retailers that wish to opt out of the bottle bill. However, some worry that the new bill would not be convenient for consumers and encourage recycling. Sen. Claire Celsi, a democrat from West Des Moines, told the committee that it would also fail to reduce the amount of litter going into Iowa’s landfills and waterways, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article.

Iowa Sierra Club representative Jess Mazour agreed with Sen. Celsi, adding that the new bill should be expanded to include containers like water, iced tea and sports drink bottles.

“We know that the bottle deposit law is wildly popular with Iowans and that you should expand it, not take this opportunity to gut it and make it less convenient for Iowans across the state,” Mazour added.

Other sections of the bill would require the Alcoholic Beverage Division (ABD) to track unclaimed refunds and enforce the new law. Any unclaimed deposits would also go into a “taxpayer relief fund,” preventing distributors from continuing to keep them. However, Jon Murphy of the Iowa Beverage Association said that the ABD might lack “enforcement capabilities,” an issue that the Iowa DNR is facing with the current bill.

The proposed legislation will now move to the Senate Natural Resources and Environment Committee for consideration.

DNR Denies Grocers’ Move to Pull Back on Redemption Center Rules

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Nicole Welle | October 5, 2020

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources denied the Iowa Grocery Industry Association’s petition to change rules on where customers can exchange cans and bottles for deposits last week.

The current law requires retailers who sell cans and bottles to accept them back unless they can refer customers to a local redemption center. The trip to the redemption center must take ten minutes or less, and Iowa grocers are working to change the rule from a ten-minute trip to a 15-minute one way drive. This would reduce the number of stores in the state required to take back cans and bottles for redemption and force customers in some areas to drive a longer distance.

The Iowa DNR denied the petition in part because grocery store customers who would be affected by this change across the state have not had a chance to be heard on the issue, according to an Iowa Capital Dispatch article. Many supporters of the current Bottle Bill, like the nonprofit Cleaner Iowa, praised the decision, noting that Iowa already has very few redemption centers that are accessible to large numbers of people. Grocery stores are the most popular and convenient place to redeem bottle and cans for most people.

The grocer’s association filed another petition on Tuesday and said that it would look into alternative actions moving forward. The new petition filed with the DNR is seeking to force other retailers who also sell bottles and cans, like gas stations and hardware stores, to also abide by the current rules. The petition includes a long list of retailers who the association believes are ignoring the law. The DNR has yet to make a decision on this issue.

Iowa legislators consider bottle bill repeal

Credit: Zen Sutherland, Flickr.

Has Iowa’s 33-year old “bottle bill” run its course?

That’s what a group of House legislators say. They want to repeal the law that requires vendors to place a 5-cent deposit on all cans and bottles sold in the state that contain alcohol and soft drinks.

Grocers have long argued that the law is overly burdensome and that the transfer of messy containers presents a health risk.

But the bottle bill has been credited with reducing levels of litter in public places – especially in highway ditches. After the bill’s passage, a 1980 litter survey found that beverage container litter in Iowa decreased 77 percent, and overall litter fell by 37 percent.

Also, recycling rates in bottle bill states are drastically higher than they are elsewhere.

In 2006 only 33 percent of containers were recycled nationwide. That number was between 65 and 95 percent in states with deposit laws, according to a study by the Iowa Policy Project. Iowans recycled 91 percent of deposited containers, and Michiganders – the lone residents who pay a 10 cent deposit – recycled 95 percent of containers.

Many have lobbied to expand the scope of the requirement to include non-carbonate and non-alcoholic beverages, which made up 25 percent of the beverage market in 2005. Others have argued that the deposit should be increased to account for inflation. Continue reading