Enforce Iowa Bottle Bill, Encourage Buyback to Supply Chains


Bundles of crushed bottles are shown at The Can Shed redemption center in Cedar Rapids. (The Gazette)

Until the COVID-19 pandemic, few people paid attention to the enforcement of Iowa’s beverage container deposit law, which was passed as a waste reduction in 1978 and signed into law on May 1, 1979 for beer and soft drinks, and July 1, 1979 for wine. and alcohol.

A decade later, in an effort to encourage more redemption in 1990, the legislature banned drop-off containers from landfills and granted retailers the right to refuse containers if they developed an agreement with an approved redemption center. , according to the Ministry of Natural Resources (DNR). Protection website, the enforcement agency.

More than 40 years after it was passed, the bill is outdated and needs modernizing to keep up with the rapid expansion of on-the-go beverages and 21st century technology.

Today, disagreements between major players – distributors and grocers/retailers – dominate conversations in the state capitol and, sadly, Iowa consumers are left out of the conversations.

Now it’s up to Iowa lawmakers and citizen advocates, like the League of Women Voters, a proponent of the original bottle bill law, to make sure consumers are represented and that their voices are heard.

Enforcement. Laws to enforce the Bottle Bill are unfortunately limited. The Iowa State Code (Chapter 455C Beverage Containers Control, 455C.12, Penalties) simply states: “Any person violating the provisions of Section 455C.2, 455C.3, or 455C.5, or a rule adopted under this chapter, shall be guilty of a simple misdemeanor.”

A misdemeanor is the least serious charge of the three classes described by Iowa’s Code 903 misdemeanors – simple, serious, and aggravated. The code states that in addition to or instead of a fine of at least $105 but not more than $850, a judge can impose up to 30 days in the county jail.

An information sheet on the DNR website clearly states that stores must redeem containers of the products they sell, unless the store has an agreement with an authorized redemption center and prominently displays a certificate issued by the Iowa DNR that identifies the “approved” redemption center, its location and hours of operation. The redemption center must be open at least 20 hours per week and within a 10-minute drive of the store. (iowadnr.gov/Portals/idnr/uploads/waste/bottlebillfaq.pdf)

The law requires stores and redemption centers to redeem cans and bottles that display the Iowa deposit badge indicating that a deposit was paid upon purchase are eligible for redemption and are reasonably clean, dry and intact. Stores can legally refuse vacuums that are dirty or broken or contain liquid.

Consumers can report to local law enforcement any stores or redemption centers that refuse to take the containers they sell or if they refuse to pay the refund of the 5-cent deposit for each item.

But the DNR has no authority or power to enforce the regulations. The DNR, which administers the bottle bill and approves repurchase agreements between retailers and centers, maintained that the Iowa legislature would have to take action before it could forcefully enforce the law. The DNR typically responds to complaints with letters and phone calls to dealers advising them of their obligations under applicable law.

Reimbursement has decreased. Redemption rates have declined and it’s easy to see why – it’s economics and it’s a Catch-22 situation. Stores that are required to accept containers have stopped refunding as there is no enforcement and redemption centers are struggling to survive. The 1-cent handling fee that hasn’t changed in over 40 years isn’t sustainable or profitable for stores or redemption centers that collect and sort empty beverage containers they’ve sold before handing them over distributors who send them for recycling. centers. The 5 cent deposit fee paid to consumers is too little for them to bother finding a nearby location to redeem deposits.

Adding to redemption difficulties, Governor Kim Reynolds suspended container redemption from March to July 2020 during the early months of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Without places to redeem the deposits, consumers recycled at the curb or threw away the containers.

Information on the DNR website indicates that in the 21st century, from 2000 to 2017, reimbursement rates have declined by 29%. In 2000, buyback was at a high point – 93% (Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Waste Management Division). Reimbursement rates dropped to 85% in 2005 (Economics of the Iowa Bottle Bill, Iowa State University, January 2012, Dr. Dermot Hayes); and further decreased to 71% (2017 Iowa State Characterization Study, SCS Engineers for Iowa DNR). A 2017 Container Recycling Institute (CRI) study estimates reimbursement at 64%. (bottlebill.org/dev/index.php/current-and-proposed-laws/usa/iowa)

Iowa law is one of 10 states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, Oregon, and Vermont) with bottle bills. States with these laws have a higher container recycling rate because containers are collected separately from other plastics, tend to be less contaminated, and of higher quality than materials collected at the curb. (container-recycling.org/)

In addition to concerns about repurchase and recycling, in December 2021 consumers were alerted to major material supply shortages that are expected to hit the beverage industry by 2023. It is unclear how this will be a factor. for Iowa’s craft beer and wine industries.

To succeed, Iowa’s bottle bill needs updates and real enforcement consequences. Processing fee adjustments will increase the profitability of stores and redemption centers. The increase in filing fees will encourage consumer repayment. Both must follow a guide to provide timely updates in order to be fair. For effective enforcement, the DNR should be able to impose penalties with consequences for stores that do not follow the law – perhaps it is time to deny a liquor license to bolster compliance.

Terese Grant is the president of the League of Women Voters of Iowa.

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