May 13, 2021

Bottle Bill under discussion in Iowa House

This week a public hearing was held to hear comments regarding House File 814 which passed out of the State Government Committee in March. HF 814 is a piece of legislation aimed at addressing Iowa’s beverage container deposit law (Bottle Bill). Aimed at trying to reduce the number of cans and bottles that made up liter, Iowa passed the bottle bill in 1978 and it went into effect in 1979 and has been law ever since. Iowa is currently one of 10 states with a bottle bill law.

Under current law, a distributor sells their beverages in containers to retailers charging a 5¢ deposit, the retailer then sells the containers to the consumer and charges the 5¢ deposit, when the consumer is finished with the container they return it to a store or redemption center and retrieve their 5¢ refund, the retailer/redemption center then receive the original 5¢ refund and an additional 1¢ for a handling fee from the distributors. The distributors are then responsible for recycling the containers.

After over 40 years without substantive changes in the law several concerns and issues have grown. Over the years redemption rates have gone down, costs in redemption have gone up, and a growing number of retailers are opting out of taking consumer’s empty containers. According to a 2018 DNR Waste Characterization Study, the recovery rate for containers under the bottle bill was 71%, down from 86% in 2007. Under current law certain retailers are allowed to refuse to accept containers if they are within a specific distance from a redemption center. However, Iowa has seen decreases in the number of redemption centers as recycling costs have increased and the handling fee paid by the distributors has remained stagnant. Iowans are having an increasingly hard time to return their containers and receive their money back. When the coronavirus pandemic ensued and retailers quit taking back containers, the problem was only exacerbated.

During the public hearing all of these concerns were raised, including concerns about sanitation in grocery stores that take back containers. Rep. Lundgren, the floor manager for House File 814, filed an amendment that would substitute HF 814 with updated language to address these concerns. As amended, the bill would increase the handling fee for the redemption centers with an increase to 7¢ per container, would roll back red tape to make opening new redemption centers easier, increase enforcement for retailers who don’t qualify to “opt-out” of taking back containers, and create a legislative review process in 2024 to evaluate the effectiveness of the changes and assess the state of the bottle bill at that point.

As the bill continues to work through the legislative process, House Republicans will continue to look for ways to ensure that the concerns that were expressed at the public hearing will be addressed and fix the growing issues with Iowa’s bottle bill.