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Iowa lawmakers send bottle bill changes to governor's desk

John Pemble
IPR file
Iowa lawmakers sent a bill to the governor’s desk Monday that would make major changes to Iowa’s 44-year-old bottle and can deposit program.

Iowa lawmakers sent a bill to the governor’s desk Monday that would make major changes to Iowa’s 44-year-old bottle and can deposit program.

If the bill is signed into law, grocery and convenience stores could refuse customers’ empty beverage containers, meaning they would no longer be a place where Iowans could get the nickel deposit back that they paid when buying pop and beer.

The bill would raise the handling fee paid to redemption centers from 1 cent to 3 cents, and stores that continue accepting bottles and cans would also get a 3-cent per container handling fee.

It would also allow for mobile redemption systems. Beverage distributors would continue to keep the estimated more than $40 million per year from unredeemed beverage containers, and the bill would officially write that into Iowa law.

Sen. Jason Schultz, R-Schleswig, said the bill does what Iowans want.

“They don’t want that tax on that can to go from a nickel to a dime. They want that left alone,” Schultz said. “This does that. They want more locations to redeem. And we’re going to have many, many more locations to redeem once this takes effect.”

Schultz said the increased handling fee will encourage more redemption centers to open in addition to the mobile redemption systems.

But Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, said the bill just serves special interests like grocery stores and beverage distributors.

“We’re going to let the people that sell bottles and cans essentially off the hook for collecting cans,” Bolkcom said. “And when we do that, we’re going to make it a lot harder for consumers to conveniently take their bottles and cans back.”

Some stores have stopped accepting bottles and cans in recent years in violation of Iowa law. And some redemption centers have closed because the 1 cent per can made it difficult to stay open.

Earlier this year, two key Republican lawmakers said they would consider getting rid of the bottle and can deposit program if they couldn’t come to an agreement on bottle bill changes this year.

The bill would allow stores that sell prepared food or have an agreement with a mobile redemption system to reject bottles and cans. Stores in a county with a population of more than 30,000 people and within 10 miles of a redemption center or mobile system could opt out, and stores in a county with a population of 30,000 or fewer people and within 15 miles of a redemption center or system could opt out.

Stores that don’t take bottles and cans would have to post on the door the location of the nearest redemption center or mobile redemption system.

Most provisions of the bill would take effect Jan. 1, 2023. But stores that are within the required distance of a redemption center and those that set up a mobile redemption system could stop taking bottles and cans before next year.

The bill would also add enforcement provisions for the bottle and can redemption program. Beverage distributors would get a 1-cent refund barrel tax refund for each beer container that is returned.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter