Bottle bill that will exempt many grocers heads to governor

By: - May 23, 2022 3:08 pm

Changes to the state's bottle bill have cleared the Iowa House and Senate. (Photo by Katie Akin/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

The Iowa Senate gave its approval Monday to sweeping changes to the state’s can and bottle redemption law — commonly known as the bottle bill — that will triple the amount of money redemption centers receive per container and will allow many retailers to stop taking back the containers they sell.

Senate File 2378 passed with a 30-15 vote after being amended and broadly approved by the House in April.

“I’m glad this is happening,” said Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, who shepherded the bill to passage. “It’s time. We’ve been working on this thing for years.”

It’s the first overhaul of the bottle bill since its enactment in 1978, which began the practice of consumers paying 5 cents per container that is redeemed if they return the container to be recycled. Grocers have long griped about being forced to retake unsanitary empty containers, and owners of some redemption centers whose primary focus is collecting those containers have said they need more income to survive.

The new legislation increases the handling fee those centers collect to 3 cents per container, up from the current 1 cent. That fee is paid by beverage distributors, but the distributors get to keep the full 5 cents for containers that aren’t redeemed.

Schultz said redemption centers will expand and other new ones will open because of the change, but he acknowledged that most grocery stores will likely stop redeeming the containers.

The legislation allows retailers to stop taking the containers if they are licensed to prepare ready-to-eat food or are located within a certain distance from a redemption center or mobile redemption center. That distance is 10 miles in counties with 30,000 or more residents and 15 miles for smaller counties.

Senate Democrats who opposed the changes said the legislation will make recycling less convenient and, as such, less likely to happen.

“I really see this as the first step of just totally eliminating the bottle bill,” said Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo. “The bottle bill makes a difference. It helps beautify Iowa. Because if you have no value on that can that you have, it gets tossed out the window.”

He said the bill should have expanded the variety of containers that carry the deposit, such as water bottles.

Some Republicans, including Schultz, had entertained scrapping the bottle bill altogether if they were unable to get enough support to amend it this session.

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Jared Strong
Jared Strong

Senior reporter Jared Strong has written about Iowans and the important issues that affect them for more than 15 years, previously for the Carroll Times Herald and the Des Moines Register.