House advances ‘compromise’ bottle bill with broad bipartisan support

Proposal allows many retailers to stop accepting empties

By: - April 12, 2022 6:39 pm

The Iowa House and Senate have differing bottle bill proposals. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa’s bottle bill appears closer to a major overhaul than at any time in its 44-year history.

The Iowa House quickly approved a compromise bill Tuesday on a bipartisan, 70-16 vote that allows retailers to opt out of redeeming empty containers under certain conditions. The bill still needs Senate approval.

“This has been a long time coming,” Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, said.

The current law, enacted by Gov. Bob Ray in 1978, requires stores that sell alcoholic or carbonated beverages and collect the 5-cent deposit to accept the empty containers and redeem the deposit. However, some retailers have refused to accept empty containers, arguing they are too dirty to bring into their stores.

Senate File 2378 as amended Tuesday would allow retailers to opt out of accepting empty containers if any of the following apply:

  • They have a food establishment license, employ a certified food production manager and use time and temperature controls for food safety. Stores that prepare food on the premises would meet most of these criteria. This would take effect started in January 2023.
  • They have entered into an agreement to have a mobile redemption center on their premises, including providing adequate space, utilities and an internet connection to operation the redemption center. Mobile redemption centers are automated units, typically contained in trailers. Consumers open an account and are credited for the deposits, typically within 10 days of returning their containers.  This would take effect July 1, 2022.
  • They are located in counties with 30,000 or more residents and are located within 10 miles of a redemption center or mobile redemption site. This distance is currently in the Department of Natural Resources’ rules.
  • They are located in counties with less than 30,000 residents and are located within 15 miles of a redemption center or mobile redemption site.

The bill requires retailers that opt out to conspicuously post that they do not redeem containers and direct consumers to the nearest redemption center or mobile center. The bill requires the DNR to create an electronic method for locating redemption centers.

The House bill provides slightly narrower opportunities for retailers to refuse empty containers than the Senate bill approved two weeks agoSenate File 2378 would allow all retailers to opt out of accepting empty containers starting in 2023.

Supporters: New redemption centers already planned

Critics of the bill argued that consumers took a back seat to special interests.

“The consumer was left out of this bill 100 percent,” Rep. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, said, but added she would support the proposal. “I do think that there are some good things in this bill that we needed to have in this bill. But it left out the people who are actually going to be returning the cans and bottles.”

Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City, who opposed the bill, said it does not allow enough time for additional redemption centers to open before retailers can start opting out of taking back containers.

“There’s no way the system can be up and running by this summer. I realize that the hope is to increase the number of redemption centers statewide. But again, the timelines don’t work,” Mascher said.

Lohse, however, said he believed the bill would encourage the expansion of redemption centers and that plans for new ones were already underway. “So before this bill even passes this body, already there are plans to open additional centers, at least here in Polk County. And I suspect that across the state, this bill will encourage that same kind of reaction in nearly every county,” he said.

He said the point of the bill was to “drive consumers to redemption centers” instead of retailers, to return their containers.

Both the House and Senate bills would raise the handling fee received by redemption centers from the current penny to 3 cents per container. Redemption centers that are not part of a retail operation have struggled to survive on the existing handling fee, business owners have told lawmakers.

Beverage distributors, which currently pay the 1-cent handling fee, would have to pay the additional 2 cents to redemption centers. The distributors would continue to keep the nickels for unredeemed containers, which is the current practice. Beer distributors would get a one-cent credit against their excise tax for each container they redeem.

The House and Senate bill both increase enforcement action for violations of the bottle bill. The House bill directs DNR to set civil penalties for violations up to a maximum of $2,500 per day.

“Well, decades of discussions and deliberations, 30 minutes of debate. Well done, House of Representatives,” House Majority Leader Matt Windschitl said.

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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. She is a leading voice on Iowa politics and makes regular appearances on state, national and international news programs. She has led national-award-winning coverage of the Iowa Caucuses and the Register’s Iowa Poll.

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