One of the raps against Iowa's bottle bill is that grocery stores are in the food business, not the recycling business. But folks who are in the recycling and redemption center business say expanding the container law to cover more items would help the state's recycling rate.
"When you look in the ditches and the landfills, you see water and juice bottles," said Jim Hansen, co-owner of the Can Shed in Cedar Rapids. "Those are products that didn't exist 28 years ago" when Iowa passed the bottle bill.
Hansen told Iowa Independent that the economy has also changed a lot in 28 years. "Labor costs, fuel costs, all of our costs have increased, and because the law limits us to a penny (per container), there is nowhere we can go to increase revenue," he said. "From a redemption and cost standpoint, increasing the handling fee would be the best solution."
"We're still unclear about the guts of the Governor's proposal," Hansen said of Governor Culver's proposal to raise the deposit to ten cents, return eight cents to consumers, and target the rest for environmental programs. That proposal appeared dead on Thursday, but the governor still expressed interest in expanding the law to cover additional containers.
Expanding the types of containers covered by the deposit is another option on the table. And even though it would take material out of his bins, Andy Ockenfels likes the idea. "Whatever pulls material out of landfills, we're definitely for."
Ockenfels is president of City Carton Recycling in Iowa City. City Carton is not in the redemption business, but Ockenfels said "we get a tremendous amount of non-deposit containers now through curbside recycling and drop-off sites. We've seen a change over the years with more water and juice."
"If they go back to a redemption site, I think there would be an increase in the containers going back," he said. "The current bottle bill historically has been effective. Anything they can add to that is good for recycling, and that's what we're all about." He added that expanding the types of containers covered by the deposit would particularly help recycling rates in areas without curbside recycling.
Jerry Fleagle, head of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association, calls the proposed deposit increase "a per beverage tax, surcharge or fee. A deposit is only a deposit when it can be fully recovered by the depositor."
But Hansen disagrees. "It's not a tax on consumers, it's a self-funding recycling effort. We see over 90% recycling in states with bottle bills. States with no bills, it's 30 to 40%."
"If no deposit was required on cans and bottles, but curbside recycling was available statewide, would we recycle our beverage containers?" Fleagle wrote in an editorial that's appearing in state newspapers. "In the end, it becomes clear that a well conceived and comprehensive recycling strategy does not need to include mandatory deposits on a select set of items."
"The Grocer's Association maintains that their business is selling groceries, not redeeming cans," said Hansen. "But when they get down to it, trying to get rid of the bottle bill is not pro-recycling."