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Amended House measure would raise bottle bill handling fees

Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch An amended House bill would raise handling fees for can and bottle redemption centers.

The Iowa House’s proposal to revamp the state’s 1979-vintage beverage container deposit law earned mixed reviews at a public hearing Tuesday night.

Before the session started, Rep. Shannon Lundgren, R-Peosta, filed an amendment to House File 814 that would raise the handling fee paid to redemption centers. That change would align the bill more with a version considered by the Senate.

Both chambers are looking at bills that would allow grocers and other retailers to opt out of accepting the containers, if there is a redemption center nearby. How nearby would vary between larger cities and rural areas.

Some lawmakers have vowed to make major changes in the law after years of debates that didn’t advance a major bill. But environmentalists and other critics have accused leaders of sidestepping core issues. Among them: Leaders have declined to add a whole grocery list of beverage containers that weren’t on the market when the bill took effect, and therefore don’t carry the nickel deposit.

Neither the 5-cent deposit nor the penny-a-container handling fee have changed since 1979. Dozens of redemption centers have closed, unable to stay financially afloat.

Jon Murphy, executive director of the Iowa Beverage Association, which represents soft drink distributors, had favored House File 814, but said the group most likely will change its position. “We don’t think it’s the solution that is going to fix the bottle bill,” he said.

Troy Willard, owner of The Can Shed in Cedar Rapids and a member of the Iowa Recycling Association, applauded the proposed increase in the handling fee. “That probably in the most paramount issue,” in shifting containers from grocery stores to redemption centers.

Willard opposed any changes that would lengthen customers’ trip to return the containers.

Linda Serra Hagedorn of the League of Women Voters of Ames and Story County said the organization is glad to see support for keeping the bottle deposits. But the group opposes letting businesses make it difficult to get the deposits back. “If stores can sell these products, they should be willing and able to redeem them,” she said.

Dustin Miller, lobbyist for the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, said the bottle bill is an anti-litter law that came about before the state had widespread recycling programs.

Grocers bear much of the costs for the system, he added.

“We aren’t fighting people’s nostalgic feelings or the money to keep the system, but our members would like for stores to no longer be mandated recycling sites” fighting sanitation issues when the containers are returned, Miller added.

Chip Baltimore, lobbyist for Fareway Stores, opposed both the original bill and the amendment. “The bottle bill is quite frankly a dinosaur,” Baltimore said. “It was originally enacted as a litter-control measure trying to clean up ditches and since has turned into simply the trash collection system.”

The Legislature is officially scheduled to adjourn April 30, though sessions often run past the scheduled close.

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