Capital Clicks

Proposed bottle bill overhaul allows retailers to refuse container returns

By: - March 17, 2022 2:41 pm

(Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa grocery stores and other retailers would be allowed to opt out of taking back bottle and can returns and repaying deposits in 2023 under the latest version of a bill making its way through the Iowa Senate.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, and Republicans on the Senate Ways and Means Committee passed the rewrite of Senate File 2122 on Thursday, with all Democrats on the panel voting no.

The amended bill replaces a version passed earlier this week by a Senate subcommittee, which would have allowed grocery stores and other retailers to opt out of taking containers back if a redemption center was located within 20 miles of the store.

Grocery industry lobbyists spoke in favor of that proposal, but beverage distributors opposed it because of the way it changed how deposit money is managed.

The amended bill allows retailers to refuse to take back containers entirely after July 1, 2023. Distributors would still keep unredeemed deposit money. Schultz said in an interview he does not believe the original version of Senate File 2122 would have enough support to pass the Legislature.

The amended bill increases the handling fee per container from 1 cent to 3 cents for redemption centers, which currently receive 1 cent per container. The bill offers no other incentives for establishment or expansion of redemption centers. Retailers that continue to take back containers would still get only a penny per container.

Schultz said the increased handling fee should allow for more, and more successful, redemption centers. “We hope that all of this just just causes the redemption industry to flourish,” he said.

The one-year delay before retailers could opt out of taking container returns, he said, would allow a “transition to a successful, thriving redemption center.”

“This is the opportunity to make this, to make the bottle bill, live for another 10 years,” Schultz said.

Democrats on the panel said the plan wouldn’t work for consumers.

“You know, this bill, the way it is written, is a de facto end of the bottle bill. And we all know why,” Sen. Bill Dotzler, D-Waterloo, said during the committee meeting. “Because now, it doesn’t make any difference how many miles you have to travel, you’re not going to have an opportunity to find a place to get rid of your bottles and cans.”

Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames, said the bottle bill needs to be updated and enforced. “This is a popular law. And many of the grocery stores are scoffing that law and facing no consequences from the current administration. We need to reinforce the bottle bill, we don’t need to gut it.”

This is likely not the last version of the bottle bill debated this year. Lawmakers said the House is working on a separate plan, which has yet to be introduced.

bottle bill amendment

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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.