CRG: Once again, Iowa bottle bill debated and deferred

DES MOINES — Another legislative session. Another bottle bill debate. Another dead end.

Forty years after Iowa adopted a nickel deposit on carbonated beverage containers that is refunded when the cans and bottle are returned to retailers, grocers don’t like it, environmental groups love it and the debate whether to expand it or kill it continues at the Capitol.

For this year, however, the debate is over.

“This bill needs to start somewhere other than Ways and Means with people who are dedicated to this kind of subject matter."

- Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa and the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee


“House File 575 is going nowhere,” House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Guy Vander Linden, R-Oskaloosa, said at the beginning of a hearing on the bill that was approved by the Environmental Protection Committee last year. “We’re convinced others have better ideas. We’re here to listen to better ideas.”

Most of the ideas presented in the 45-minute hearing sounded a lot like those offered in the past.

Brad Epperly, representing the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, called for repeal of the nickel deposit in favor of a broader waste recycling effort tied to curbside recycling. Bottle and can redemption rates have fallen from more 86 percent to 71 percent.

“They’re not in our ditches. They’re not in our garbage cans,” he said. “They’re in our recycling bins” because consumers would rather do that than take them back to the store. He pointed out that 83 percent of Iowa communities have curbside recycling available.

The proposal from the grocers and Iowa Beverage Association would not only eliminate the nickel deposit, but expand curbside recycling, removed container redemption at grocery stores, create a beverage industry-funded recycling effort and establish incentives for landfill diversion.

Legislation proposed by grocers and the Iowa Beverage Association called for a comprehensive recycling solution that addresses paper, cardboard, glass and plastic.

“Single-stream seems to be the silver bullet we’re all looking for,” countered Mick Barry, president of Mid America Recycling, “but right now that’s a lead bullet,” The market for single-stream recycling material is collapsing as China no longer it. His business is being offered a “negative $32” to deliver recyclable waste to mills that re-use it.

“Repeal of the bottle bill is a disaster waiting to happen,” Barry said.

Matt McKinney, speaking for the Iowa Recycling Association, warned that the proposal by the grocers and bottlers would shift container recycling from the private sector to the public sector where it would lead to bigger government and higher taxes.

Troy Willard said that plan would put his 21-year-old Can Shed redemption center in Cedar Rapids that handles 100 million container a year out of business. His and other redemption centers employ thousands of Iowans and he told the subcommittee they should be the solution for all beverage containers.

That also was Rep. Andy McKean’s message to the subcommittee. The Anamosa Republican is the lead sponsor of HF 2155 that would preserve the 5-cent deposit on bottles and cans containing alcoholic beverages and carbonated drinks, and it would also expand the list of covered containers to include teas, water, juice and sports drinks. Grocery stores would still be required to redeem beverage containers unless there is a redemption center within one mile of their locations.

The bottle bill and curbside recycling should not be mutually exclusive, he said. He recommended increasing the handling fee so redemption centers could be profitable and gradually expand the variety of containers covered by the bottle bill.

While Vander Linden declared the bill dead for the session, he concluded the hearing by predicting the discussion will continue. McKean’s bill represents one approach, he said.

“He’s got 42 players from both parties, so that’s not going to go away,” Vander Linden said, adding, “This bill needs to start somewhere other than Ways and Means with people who are dedicated to this kind of subject matter.”