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A group of several other state lawmakers have joined me to propose legislation to remake how Iowa deals with single-use beverage containers.
I hosted a news conference and tour February 19 with Shannon and Steven Moller of Center Redemption in Dubuque to discuss House File 2440.
The bill, if approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor, would create an expanded program administered by the state Alcoholic Beverages Division (ABD). ABD already regulates the sale and distribution of beer and wine in Iowa and is responsible for the wholesaling of alcoholic liquor.
Iowa’s current “bottle bill” system, while extremely popular and effective for the last 40 years, is now a mess, thanks to the pandemic. The governor told retailers they could stop accepting bottles and cans during the state of emergency, and virtually all of them stopped doing so, many of them falsely claiming the state required it. Hardly any of those retailers are following the law now that the emergency proclamation has been lifted, and local law enforcement has not stepped in to enforce the law as required.
This has created hardships for consumers and more pressure on the few remaining redemption centers, which for years have been cutting back and closing down because they can’t hire people or pay the bills with the penny the law gives them for each bottle and can they redeem.
In 1978, the Legislature created a private system now marked by a lack of accountability, a dearth of transparency and a deficit of compliance. This has resulted in a decline in success, fostered by an ossified General Assembly unable to make changes as retailers and distributors throw up roadblocks to any proposed reform.”
House File 2440 would recreate Iowa’s bottle bill system by:
· * Expanding the 5 cent deposit to most individual use beverage containers;
· * Increasing reimbursement to redemption centers to 3 cents per container;
· * Assessing manufacturers ½ cent per container;
· * Assessing distributors ½ cent per container;
· * Assessing retailers ½ cent per container;
· * Prohibiting retailers or their agents from directly providing redemption services;
· * Granting compliance and enforcement tools to the Alcoholic Beverages Division, taking the Department of Natural Resources and local law enforcement out of the picture;
· * Authorizing the Alcoholic Beverages Division to use any funds not needed for bottle and can redemption to provide grants to expand redemption capacity in underserved areas or to support non-profit organizations engaging in litter collection in public areas.
The bill offers every stakeholder what they want or what they need to successfully fulfill their roles within the system, making redemption businesses profitable again so they can expand, enabling maximum consumer convenience, diverting solid waste from landfills, allowing for more comprehensive recycling, and cleaning up our environment again. Notably, retailers will no longer have to accept returns; in fact, the bill prohibits it.
By returning profitability to redemption centers, we can reverse the decline that has seen the number of independent places that people can take their cans and bottles for deposit shrink from a high of 213 statewide to just 123 today. Of those, only 88 are approved to accept bottles and cans on behalf of retailers. That approval requires the centers to have minimum service hours and be in within easy driving distance to the stores they serve, but they can’t afford to meet those requirements.
A 2015 report by a legislative interim committee on recycling policy “unanimously voted to recommend to the General Assembly that a small working group composed of only legislators” be convened to address recycling policy, including the bottles and cans, because it was clear that the various players did not agree and would not work together. Nothing about that has really changed since I started working this issue in 2016 as ranking member of the Environmental Protection Committee. Elected officials need to start making decisions in the public interest for the common good.
Independent polling since 2015 has consistently shown broad public support for Iowa’s beverage container control program. The Des Moines Register’s Iowa Poll found in 2018 that majorities of every major demographic group wanted the bottle bill maintained or expanded. The newspaper’s survey found that “majorities of Republicans (53 percent) and Democrats (60 percent) favor either keeping the law the way it is or expanding it,” along with 61 percent of political independents.
A 2017 poll by Selzer and Company found that “the current law wins almost universal support. Nearly nine in ten active Iowa voters (88%) say the bottle bill has been good for the state.
Per IowaBottleBill.com: “Nearly four in five support keeping the law in some form; if anything, voters are open to expansion. Every demographic group identified favors keeping or expanding the law by strong majorities, including:
- Every age group: Under age 35 (70%) to those ages 55 and over (83%);
- Every party alliance: Republicans (74%), Democrats (81%), and independents (78%);
- Every congressional district: From the 4th CD (72%) to the 2nd CD (82%);
- Every community type: It’s very nearly as popular in the rural areas (77%) as in the metro areas (79%).”
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources conducts “waste characterization studies” every five years to determine what types of solid waste is landfilled in Iowa. Through that study, along with beverage sales data from the Container Recycling Institute, the DNR is able to determine the “recovery rate” for bottles and cans in the state.
The most recent study in 2018 determined the recovery rate for containers covered under the bottle deposit law is 71 percent, including 69 percent for aluminum, 60 percent for plastic, and 83 percent for glass.
Bottom line, by creating a more robust system — fueled by greater resources and more participants — those numbers will return to historic highs and for more types of containers. We and Mother Nature will all be better off as a result.