House bottle bill proposal includes enforcement, new fees and opt-out for some retailers

By: - March 22, 2022 4:19 pm

(Photo by Kathie Obradovich/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Retailers that sell prepared food or fresh produce could refuse can and bottle returns under a proposal advanced by a bipartisan group of House lawmakers.

House File 2524 would allow more retailers to opt out of the program. Stores could decline container returns if they sell fresh produce or prepared foods; if they sell fewer than 3,500 containers annually; if the store has a mobile redemption center; or if the store is within a certain distance of a redemption center.

The bill would also introduce new enforcement measures for scofflaws, including a civil penalty of up to $2,500 for each day of violation. Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, said additional enforcement was essential to the continued functioning of the redemption program.

“There is plenty of dirty hands and a lot of people not following the law, from the distributors, retailers and redemption centers,” Lohse said. 

There would also be additional fees for participating retailers and distributors. Retailers would need to pay an additional half a cent per container for the next several years. Distributors would pay an additional cent for each nonalcoholic container and an additional half a cent for beer containers, though the additional fee for beer containers can be balanced out by a tax exemption.

The House Ways and Means Committee advanced the bill with bipartisan support, though Lohse said additional changes were likely on the House floor. Three Democrats opposed the bill: Reps. Eric Gjerde, Art Staed and Mary Wolfe.

Staed said the proposal gives retailers no incentives to accept bottles and cans, calling it a “poison pill” that would lead to the demise of the bottle redemption program.

Grocers registered in opposition to the proposal. Brad Epperly, lobbyist for the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, said retailers would need to pay the additional half-cent for every container sold, even though many customers will never redeem the cans and bottles. He estimated the change would cost retailers $50 million over the next five years.

“Retailers should not have to buy their way out of a government mandate, but at a minimum, any payment of the handling fee increase should be tied to redemption,” Epperly wrote in an email.

A Senate committee advanced its own bottle bill proposal last week. Senate File 2122 would increase the handling fee to 3 cents and allow retailers to opt out of the program. 

The bottle bill has been a thorn in legislative sides for decades. House and Senate leaders said this session is the time to fix the 44-year-old bottle redemption program – even if some stakeholders aren’t happy with the compromise.

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Katie Akin
Katie Akin

Katie Akin is a former Iowa Capital Dispatch reporter. Katie began her career as an intern at PolitiFact, debunking viral fake news and fact-checking state and national politicians. She moved to Iowa in 2019 for a politics internship at the Des Moines Register, where she assisted with Iowa Caucus coverage, multimedia projects and the Register’s Iowa Poll. She became the Register’s retail reporter in early 2020, chronicling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Central Iowa’s restaurants and retailers.