Senate votes to allow retailers to quit accepting bottle and can returns

By: - March 29, 2022 4:38 pm

Iowa lawmakers are considering changes to how consumers get their 5-cent deposit back from soda containers like these. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Retailers would be allowed to opt out of accepting bottle and can returns starting in 2023, redemption centers would get a raise and beverage wholesalers would continue to keep unredeemed deposits under a bill approved Tuesday by the Iowa Senate.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, floor manager of Senate File 2378, said it was “an attempt to save the bottle bill.”

Democrats who opposed the legislation said it would do the opposite: “This legislation is about killing the bottle bill,” Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said during the debate.

One of the main points of disagreement between the two sides is whether the increased handling fee will be enough to encourage new or expanded redemption centers to open. If retailers opt out of the program, more redemption centers will be needed so consumers can return their containers and collect their 5-cent deposit.

The bill increases the handling fee for redemption centers from 1 cent to 3 cents per container. Retailers that continue to accept containers will continue to receive a penny per container.

A previous version of the bill would allow grocers and other retailers to opt out of accepting containers only if a redemption center was located within 20 miles. The Senate bill eliminates any requirement for a nearby redemption center before retailers can opt out.

“We’re asked to believe in this mythology that somehow redemption centers will all of a sudden pop up across the countryside. I think that’s ridiculous,” Quirmbach said.

He said if grocers are allowed to opt out, Iowans will not have convenient locations to return containers and get their nickels back. “And if they can’t do that, conveniently, they won’t do it. Instead, some will toss the bottles and cans out the car window, littering our roadsides spoiling our beautiful Iowa countryside,” he said.

Sen. Tom Shipley, R-Nodaway, disagreed with Democrats’ predictions that expensive mobile redemption units would not be cost-effective in rural areas. Mobile redemption centers are trailers operated by redemption centers where consumers can open an account, return their containers and have the deposit credited back to them.  “In my little county, they’re already looking at this system. They started looking at this system months ago,” he said, and operators don’t see any reason a mobile system would not work in the area.

Schultz also disputed negative predictions. “I can’t leave without pointing out that these forecasts of doom and gloom continue to happen. And they continue to be proven false. We’re doing our homework,” he said.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, also objected to provisions of an amendment to the bill that would put in state law that beverage wholesalers are entitled to keep any money from unredeemed deposits. That’s happening currently, but some lawmakers have proposed recapturing what they estimate could be millions of dollars to support redemption centers and a new regulatory structure.

“This basically says that if a can doesn’t get (returned), and I believe that the number of cans … that won’t be recycled is going to go through the roof, that the consumer is basically paying five cents for something that they’re not going to get back,” Dotzler said.

The bill passed with a vote of 31-18. It moves to the House, which is considering a separate bill that allows some retailers – grocers and some others – to opt out of accepting container returns.

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Kathie Obradovich
Kathie Obradovich

Editor Kathie Obradovich has been covering Iowa government and politics for more than 30 years, most recently as political columnist and opinion editor for the Des Moines Register. She previously covered the Iowa Statehouse for 10 years for newspapers in Davenport, Waterloo, Sioux City, Mason City and Muscatine.