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GOP lawmakers may consider repealing Iowa's bottle bill if they can't agree on fixing it

Iowa's flag flapping near the gold dome of Iowa's Capitol.
John Pemble
IPR file
Two key Republican lawmakers say they may consider getting rid of Iowa’s bottle and can deposit program if they can’t agree on how to change it this year.

Two key Republican lawmakers said Monday they may consider getting rid of Iowa’s bottle and can deposit program if they can’t agree on how to change it this year.

House and Senate Republicans have competing proposalsthat they say will fix Iowa’s bottle deposit law as many stores have stopped accepting bottle and can returns, and redemption centers struggle to operate when they’ve been getting 1 cent per can for the past 40 years.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, led the recent passage of the Senate’s bill. He said on Iowa Public Radio’s River to River that he’s meeting with the House to try to reach a deal.

“It’s to the point where I think a whole lot of people agree that if we can’t get something done this year, next year, we need to be looking at repeal,” Schultz said, “and just waiting for people to demand that we put something back in place and see what that looks like.”

Schultz said there is “a growing number of people who think it’s just an unfair tax on Iowa grocery purchasers of about $100 million.”

Rep. Brian Lohse, R-Bondurant, was asked if he agrees.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted to repeal this thing for four years,” he said. “But, you know, I think at some point we have to do something. I would like to try to fix it. But if we can’t fix it, this thing is going to implode on itself and it’s just time to repeal it.”

Lohse also owns a grocery store.

A recent poll found 84 percent of active Iowa voters say the bottle bill has been good for the state. And the poll found 86 percent of active Iowa voters want there to be more places to return bottles and cans to get their 5-cent deposits back.

Both the House and Senate bills would allow grocery stores to stop accepting bottles and cans, though the House version would still have some requirements for stores to get out of the program. Both would give more money to redemption centers to encourage more to open—the House would give 1 cent more per container, and the Senate would give 2 cents more.

The bills would allow for mobile redemption centers. Beverage distributors would still be allowed to keep the money from unredeemed containers, estimated at more than $40 million each year.

Recycling advocates say the House and Senate bills could make it harder for Iowans to return bottles and cans.

During a call with reporters Monday, Container Recycling Institute President Susan Collins said the bills could lead to “recycling deserts.”

“It’s more likely than not that there will be several places in the state—it could be many, many places in the state—where no redemption center comes in, no mobile system comes in to serve that location,” Collins said. “And all of the retailers in that location go away, and then those consumers would be left in a lurch.”

Collins said Iowa is also the only state that allows beverage distributors to keep all of the money from unredeemed containers with no requirement to report how much money they’re keeping. She said if fewer Iowans are able to return bottles and cans, distributors will get to keep even more money.

Collins said it’s the government’s job to make sure it’s just as easy for Iowans to get their bottle deposit back as it was to purchase the beverage in the first place.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter