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Pressure builds for changes to Iowa’s Bottle Bill

DES MOINES — The battle over Iowa’s so-called “bottle bill” which set the nickel deposit fee on cans and bottles with carbonated and alcoholic beverages in 1979 will again be waged in the 2021 Iowa legislature.

House Speaker Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, told Radio Iowa he hears about it “constantly.”

“The question of tackling the Bottle Bill has 100 different opinions on what that looks like,” Grassley said during an interview.

Michelle Hurd, president of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, said the law is not being uniformly enforced, as some businesses that sell beverages do not accept empties and paying back the deposit fees.

“Forty years ago you might not have had ‘Dollar’ stores that sell beverage that are contained in the bottle deposit law or maybe hardware stores,” Hurd said during an appearance on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS. “They’re now directly across the street from your hometown grocer, competing, and not playing by the same rules or being held to the same standard.”

The number of redemption centers which also accept empties has dwindled significantly over the years. The one-cent-per-container fee for processing the empties set 40 years ago has never changed. Troy Willard, owner of the Can Shed redemption centers in the Cedar Rapids and Iowa City areas, is a member of the Iowa Recycling Association.

“There certainly needs to be more money in the system to make it a viable financial model,” he said on “Iowa Press” on Iowa PBS. “That’s the only way that redemption centers are going to make it.”

Increasing the deposit fee and applying it to water bottles and other beverage containers that aren’t subject to the deposit now are among options lawmakers have discussed. Grassley said getting the empties out of grocery stores is the pressing issue he’s hearing the most about.

“That doesn’t mean that there’s not going to be a way to redeem them,” Grassley said. “Just I think Covid really brought that to our attention, when it comes to sanitary conditions within the stores.”

At the beginning of the pandemic, Governor Reynolds suspended bottle and can redemption at grocery stores for a few months.

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