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Iowa judge throws out grocery industry lawsuit over Bottle Bill

DES MOINES — A district court judge has dismissed the grocery industry’s challenge of how state officials interpret Bottle Bill requirements for redeeming the nickel deposits on empty beverage containers.

Meanwhile, at the state Capitol, a plan that would set the conditions by which grocers could opt out of processing the empties in their stores is eligible for debate in a state senate committee. Senator Dan Dawson, a Republican from Council Bluffs, said the bill could “breathe new life” into the effort to make changes.

“Iowans do like the Bottle Bill, but we have to be sympathetic to the infrastructure out there,” Dawson said. “Just because we like something doesn’t mean we can pass an unfunded mandate onto all these industries and turn around and say: ‘Make it happen,’ when we know the current system is not sustainable and is collapsing.”

Brad Epperly, a lobbyist for the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, said the solution beverage distributors and grocers came up with after daily meetings this year apparently has no chance of winning House approval.

“We were told by the House it was a non-starter,” Epperly said during a senate subcommittee hearing yesterday.

David Edelman, a lobbyist for the Iowa Wholesale Beer Distributors Association, said the groups will continue to negotiate, in hopes of finding acceptable adjustments in the Bottle Bill.

“After 40 years, I think we can all acknowledge that tweaks in the system need to be made,” Edelman said.

Jess Mazour of the Sierra Club of Iowa said consumers “want convenience: and the ability to take their empties back to the stores where they bought the beverages in the first place.

“We keep hearing about the grocers and the bottlers all saying they’ve come to an agreement, but we know that citizens overwhelmingly love the bottle deposit law that we have,” Mazour said.

The Iowa Grocery Industry’s lobbyist replied that redemption rates in Iowa are falling and the latest state report suggested 64% of bottles and cans are recycled. Mick Barry, president of Mid America Recycling in Des Moines, said only 32% of beverage containers are recycled nationally, so Iowa’s redemption rate for bottles and cans is about double that.

“Cold turkey taking it out of the stores is probably going to take us backwards,” Barry said.

Senator Pam Jochum, a Democrat from Dubuque, said she’s concerned because in 2017, Iowa failed to claim $35 million in their deposits for bottles and cans.

“I’m hoping this time all the interested parties really are seriously talking to one another to find a solution,” Jochum said, “because the system is eroding.”

The grocery industry’s lawsuit that was tossed out yesterday argued the Iowa Department of Natural Resources did not have the authority to enforce Bottle Bill rules. The judge ruled the agency’s actions weren’t irrational and it did not abuse its discretion.

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