However, the CDC has never linked increased COVID-19 risk to bottle redemption nor has there been a case of redemption-related transmission reported anywhere in the country. Many of Iowa’s stand-alone redemption centers have been safely operating throughout the pandemic by implementing safety measures similar to those used by food and beverage industries.
The refusal to resume redemption activities is unfair to Iowa consumers, who deserve to be able to claim their deposits where they buy beverages. It puts our environment at risk by hobbling the longest-running and most effective recycling program in Iowa history. And, it threatens small and large businesses up and down the supply chain that overwhelmingly depend on clean commodities to manufacture food and beverage containers. But perhaps worst of all, it sets a dangerous precedent for retailers that they can break the law with impunity. IGIA has publicly stated that it supports its member’s position to refuse redemption activities.
Jessica Mazour of the Iowa chapter of the Sierra Club said she is concerned there are “recycling deserts” in parts of Iowa because retail stores have been refusing to take empties as the law requires and have been using the pandemic as a “false reason” after they’ve advocated for years to opt out of the process.
“If they were really concerned about COVID, they would still have their mask mandate requirements in their stores,” she noted.
TO FILE A REPORT
If the store or approved redemption center refuses to take the products sold by the store, it is a simple misdemeanor and should be reported to your local police or sheriff’s department. (see Iowa Code sections 455C.2, 455C.3 and 455C.12)
Stores must redeem Iowa empties of the products it sells (the same kinds, sizes and brands). However, a store can use an approved redemption center that’s certified by the Iowa DNR in place of accepting cans and bottles at their store – look for a prominently displayed Iowa DNR certificate that lists the store’s approved redemption center.
For more detailed information, go to: https://www.iowadnr.gov and search bottle bill
LET YOUR STATE REPRESENTATIVES KNOW YOU ARE IN SUPPORT OF STRENGTHENING THE BOTTLE BILL
Find your Legislator at: https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/find
Or Call: Senate Switchboard: 515-281-3371 // House Switchboard: 515-281-3221
Governor’s Office: 515-281-5211
Many Happy Returns: Iowa’s Bottle Law
Guest blog post by David Osterberg, Iowa Policy Project/ posted July 2020
Many of us have built up a stockpile of drink bottles and cans since Governor Kim Reynolds put our container deposit program on hold. Most states curtailed their redemption program in emergency orders to deal with COVID-19. Grocery stores in states like Iowa are resuming bottle collection as states open for business.
Iowa passed our bottle and can redemption law in 1978. Since then we pay 5 cents each time we buy a can of beer or bottle of Coke and get the nickel back when we return the container to the place we bought it.
States surrounding Iowa take no such action to reduce roadside litter and boost recycling efforts. Out here on the edge of the prairie one can feel our policy is out of step. Actually, Iowa is ahead of the game. In 2010, 38 countries in the world and 10 U.S. states and Guam had bottle and can redemption laws. The same number of programs remain in the U.S. but now there are 58 countries with bottle bills.
In January 2017 about 300 million people lived in countries with bottle bills. New laws passed in Europe and Australia since then will soon double that number and one expert claims that by 2030, a billion people in the world will pay a charge on a drink container and get the money back when they return it. The main reason for this movement toward responsibility in dealing with container waste is the terrible problem of ocean pollution. New islands of plastic are appearing in the world’s oceans and micro plastic material is everywhere. While reducing litter along roadsides or in oceans may have been the primary goal of bottle bills, they also contribute to increased recycling rates, thereby helping to reduce greenhouse emissions through energy savings.
The U.S. Container Recycling Institute reports that return rates for aluminum, PET plastic and glass in states with a bottle bill is much higher than states without. A 2013 study found:
On average, states that incentivize with container deposit laws recycled aluminum, plastic and glass containers at double the rate of states without bottle bills in 2010. In states with bottle bills, aluminum cans were returned at a rate of 84 percent, compared to 39 percent in states with other systems in place.
For PET plastic, used in 2-liter soft drink bottles, the return rates are lower since bottled water is rarely included in redemption state requirements, but the difference in the percentage of returns is more dramatic. Newer data (2015) shows PET plastic returned at a rate of 63 percent in bottle bill states compared to only 18 percent in the other 40 states. Specific to Iowa, “472 beverage containers are recycled per capita in Iowa now: nearly twice as many as the average in non-deposit states (226).”
When COVID-19 has disrupted so many supply chains, having a clean, separated waste stream through redemption programs is important in allowing companies to maintain their commitments to percentage of recycled content. And this source of a clean waste stream for containers can be improved. The 2019 rate of beverage container return was nearly 90 percent in Michigan, which raised its nickel deposit to 10 cents. Iowa would certainly gain by such a move. Remember, a nickel in 1978 is worth 20 cents today.
Some grocery stores have mostly solved the dirty returnables problem by having a container redemption station outside the store. However, maintaining such equipment or making staff available to process returned beverages is costly. There is little in it for a grocery store since they only get a penny per deposit item to cover their costs.
So that leads to an environmental answer. Boost the nickel to a dime or more and double the handling fee to 2 cents. In addition, include water bottles and other non-carbonated containers in the program. Then we will all have enough to gain by being good stewards and the outlets that sell the drink containers will have more of their costs covered. The link between buying the container and returning the container to where you bought it can be strengthened. We just need to put more money into the system.
Iowans already accept the responsibility since they have been returning containers to groceries and other stores for more than 40 years. Just raise the fee, make handling the cans and bottles an economic benefit and we can continue to be a world leader in recycling responsibility.
David Osterberg co-founded the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project in 2001 and remains its lead environment and energy researcher. A former six-term state legislator, he is professor emeritus of occupational and environmental health at the University of Iowa.