UPDATE: House Study Bill 163 was approved by a 11-10 vote in Iowa's House Environmental Protection Committee on March 1, as reported by The Gazette.
While this makes the bill eligible for floor debate during the current legislative session, lawmakers don't plan to advance it any further in 2017. Changing the state's decades-old bottle bill law is expected to be a complex process that could potentially take years. Opponents of the plan are upset by what they see as a rushed decision, while supporters have claimed incremental victory.
- New legislation to repeal Iowa's container redemption program is being considered by state lawmakers this week, with strong support from the retail industry. While recyclers say the program is working well, many grocery and convenience store owners want to get out of the redemption business, as reported by The Gazette.
- House Study Bill 163 would repeal the 5-cent container redemption program and replace it with new funding mechanisms. Staring in 2019, beverage wholesalers would be charged 1 cent per container until $60 million had been amassed for local recycling programs. A separate tax — one-fifteen thousandth of one percent of sales price — would be imposed on beverages to fund a litter reduction account managed by Keep Iowa Beautiful.
- According to a 2012 report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 86% of beverage containers sold in the state are recycled. Redemption center operators oppose the bill and say it could force them to charge cities more money for their services, resulting in higher costs to taxpayers.
Iowa has had this system since 1978 and the state estimates 1.65 billion containers are redeemed every year. While store owners want to regain valuable square footage in their stores currently occupied by redemption operations, some legislators and recyclers have questioned if this new approach could operate at the same level of effectiveness. Details on how the $60 million recycling fund would eventually be used are currently vague and it's possible that coverage might not be universal across the state.
Bottle bills currently exist in 10 states, though recently efforts to repeal them have been more common than efforts to enact new ones. Delaware's bottle bill was repealed in 2010 as part of its shift to the Universal Recycling Law and similar discussions have recently occurred in Massachusetts and Maine. Though on the other end of the spectrum, Oregon plans to increase its deposit rate to 10 cents this spring and Connecticut's governor wants to do the same.
Some states, particularly California, have struggled to make the economics of their programs work in recent years and critics of such plans say that 5 cents is no longer enough incentive to drive participation. Now it will be up to Iowa's House Environmental Protection Committee to decide the fate of these efforts in their own state. Waste Dive will continue to follow this story as it develops.