Keep, augment bottle deposit law


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Amid the larger clashes over same-sex marriage and budget allocations, a more minor quibble has cropped up in Iowa — and it has nothing to do with a phony Cy-Hawks rivalry.

The quarrel is among grocery stores, cities, lawmakers, and recycling advocates over the 5-cent bottle deposit. Rep. Ross Paustian, R-Walcott, is spearheading efforts to repeal House Bill 74, which establishes the deposit on certain cans and bottles purchased in Iowa. While his intentions to modernize Iowa’s recycling system are just, repealing the deposit wouldn’t solve an antiquated system; what is needed instead is a serious overhaul and improvement.

Paustian believes that because the 5-cent deposit has been around for more than 30 years, there is no more need for a deposit. Iowans are in the habit of recycling bottles and cans, and this habit will carry over without the 5-cent redemption.

But Iowa City recycling coordinator Jennifer Jordan disagrees.

“No one is going to go through the effort of collecting and recycling them without the 5-cent incentive,” Jordan told the DI Editorial Board on Wednesday.

The redemption is why many Iowans recycle cans and bottles. And because they’re already making the trip to the redemption center, they take plastics and other non-redeemables with them.

“I think it would be a disservice to Iowans to get rid of the bill,” Jordan said. “Recycling rates will fall.”

The data show that Iowa has excellent recycling rates, and comparisons with other states can attribute this (at least in part) to the deposit law. Residents in states with deposits recycle an average of 490 beverage containers per person each year; residents in states without such deposits recycle only an average of 191 beverage containers per person each year. On average, 1.9 billion beverage containers are sold in Iowa yearly; 1.65 billion of those containers are redeemed at redemption centers.

Paustian’s rationale is that Iowans don’t need a monetary incentive for recycling and will continue recycling habits because of the curbside services and the many recycling centers offered throughout Iowa.

But in Iowa City, curbside recycling is not available to many apartment and townhouse complexes. And many college students only make the trek to Hy-Vee or the recycling center in order to get their money back.

“Not everyone chooses to use or keep curbside services,” Jordan said.

Teresa Kurtz, the executive director of the Iowa Recycling Association, also realizes the large effect that the 5-cent incentive has on the younger population.

“I’m not optimistic about students taking their bottles back without the 5-cent incentive,” she told the Editorial Board.

Iowa’s litter problem was the reason the bottle bill was originally enacted in 1978 under then-Gov. Robert Ray. That litter problem would not be alleviated by modern technology; the bottle deposit provides positive reinforcement of recycling instead of tossing cans and bottles by the wayside.

Amendments need to be made to the current bill to adapt it to the modern situation. Jordan and Kurtz propose amendments such as expanding the deposit to cover water bottles and juices, creating more redemption sites, and increasing the amount of money that redemption sites receive for their services, all of which could avoid a potential litter influx.

But grocery stores are concerned about a different problem. Currently, redemption sites only receive 1 cent per bottle redeemed, and the upkeep required for the depository machines is draining
“Depository machines cost $30,000 to $50,000 each, not including the amount of money required to maintain them,” said Jerry Fleagle, the president of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association.

The state doesn’t fund these costs, but the state isn’t making money off of them, either. The current bottle bill and its encompassing system do not supply revenue to Iowa, another aspect of the current law that could use some change.

Fleagle proposed that the state or counties designate specific drop-off locations for cans and bottles, at which the cans are scrapped for valuable aluminum.

If this sort of system is set up, it could bring in county revenue, which might be used to further recycling projects. This would appease the grocery stores by shouldering the burden of maintaining redemption centers, and it would bring in money to expand recycling advocates’ programs.

Repealing the bill without a plan for reform will only worsen the problems. All parties with a interest need to come together to work on a comprehensive plan to continue recycling practices, and to also ensure that the modes of those practices are practical and economical.

Leave the deposit law in place — and make it better.

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