# Bottle Bill

Iowa legislature finally agrees on new bottle bill

Iowa lawmakers have amended the state’s recycling law for the first time since its passage in 1978. Senate File 2378 changes what is commonly known as the “bottle bill” in ways that will please beverage distributors, retailers, and redemption centers.

In a mostly party-line vote on May 23, the Iowa Senate concurred with the version of the bill House members approved last month. Governor Kim Reynolds has not publicly commented on the proposal but is expected to sign it into law.

Legislators who voted against the bill warned that it would harm consumers and reduce recycling.

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Droppett not so convenient for can, bottle return

Terese Grant and Linda Schreiber co-authored this commentary. Bills pending in the Iowa House and Senate would allow retailers to stop accepting recyclable containers.

Droppett CEO and President Doug Webb painted a rosy picture of his company’s recycling system in a January guest editorial for the Cedar Rapids Gazette. Droppett is owned by CRINC, which is owned by Doll Distributors (Budweiser) and Iowa Beverage Systems (Miller/Coors).

Recycling declined dramatically during the global COVID-19 pandemic after Governor Kim Reynolds gave retailers the option to suspend redemption.

The two largest retailers took different paths. Fareway discontinued redemption and does not accept containers; it does have agreements with redemption centers. Hy-Vee continued redemption at locations equipped with reverse vending machines and partnered with nearby redemption centers.

If bottle and can redemption is limited to Droppett systems only, recycling may decline further, producing more unclaimed money for distributors (already estimated to be in the tens of millions of dollars).

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When horsetrading goes one step too far

I supported the Culver administration’s efforts to expand the bottle bill, even though I disagreed with some aspects of the bill the governor submitted to the legislature this year.

That said, this story from the Sunday Des Moines Register was troubling:

Word came from the lieutenant governor: If gambling lobbyists didn’t help deliver the bottle bill, they were likely to see the death of a much-coveted bill that would provide a financial advantage for casinos.

The behind-the-scenes maneuvering in the Legislature illustrates the political capital Gov. Chet Culver’s administration was willing to spend on the bottle bill – even if it caused lobbyists angst.

Some gambling lobbyists said it would be awkward, and possibly unethical, to lobby for a bill in which their clients either had no stake or had conflicting interests, and they declined to do it.


Lt. Gov. Patty Judge is unapologetic about asking gambling lobbyists for their help with the bottle bill, even though it caused turmoil in the rotunda. “I talked to a lot of people about that and asked for their help, and I will sure admit that,” Judge said. “I asked anybody within my earshot to help me with the bottle bill.”

She said she did not consider her request to the gambling lobbyists an ultimatum.

Judge’s spokesman, Troy Price, said: “There was never a ‘You do this or else.’ That was never issued.”

If this article is accurate, then what Judge did does not sit well with me.

We all know that “you pass my bill and I’ll pass yours” is a normal way of conducting business in any legislature. I don’t like drawing lobbyists into this practice, though. They should not weigh in on issues that have no bearing on their clients.

In fairness to Judge or anyone else in the Culver administration who may have been on board with this strategy, it’s clear that Iowa legislative leaders are not going to expand the bottle bill just because it’s the right thing to do. (For more on why adding a deposit to more types of beverage containers would be good for the environment, check out the website of the Container Recycling Institute.)

It’s also clear that the broad bipartisan public support for expanding the bottle bill is not enough to overcome the resistance from the grocery and bottling industries.

It says a lot about our Democratic leadership in the legislature if Judge or others thought the only way to counteract the influence of certain industry lobbyists was to enlist other lobbyists to support the bottle bill.

Democrats should be willing to expand recycling programs without needing that kind of a push.

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Bottle bill expansion unlikely to pass the House

It sounds like there is not enough support in the Iowa House to pass a bill expanding the 5-cent deposit to juice, water and sports drink containers. Instead, a commission will study recycling issues, including the bottle bill, and report back to legislators for next year’s session.

I hope legislators will pass comprehensive reform of the bottle bill next year, and not just toss this commission’s report on recycling in the recycling bin. Action on this front is several years overdue.

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Bottle bill expansion makes it through the funnel

The House Environmental Protection Committee on Monday approved a bill that would extend the 5-cent deposit to bottled water, tea, juice and sports drinks.

It’s a step in the right direction, although it would be better to increase the deposit so that redemption centers could receive more than 1 cent for each can and bottle they handle.

Governor Culver’s original bottle bill proposal would have doubled the deposit to 10 cents, giving an extra penny to the redemption centers. However, Culver’s bill also would have returned only 8 cents of the deposit to consumers. The other 2 cents would have gone to fund some environmental programs.

I’m all for increasing environmental funding, but the key to widespread political support for the can and bottle deposit is that it is not a tax–consumers get all of the money back. Converting the deposit into a tax that is not fully refundable would erode public support for this very important recycling program.

I hope the legislature will extend the deposit to a broader range of bottled drinks this year, but in 2009 I hope someone will step up with a bigger bottle bill reform initiative.

For an overview of other bills that hang in the balance this week, read this Des Moines Register piece. Any bill not approved by a legislative committee by this Thursday will be dead for this year’s legislative session.

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