Poll: Majority of Iowans want to see changes to deposit law

There are renewed discussions about bill in the statehouse would repeal Iowa's bottle deposit law and replace it with a program that emphasizes residential or single-stream recycling.

A new poll from the Iowa Grocery Industry Association and the Iowa Beverage Association suggests that a majority of Iowans are ready to see changes to the nearly 40-year-old law, known widely as the "bottle bill" law, that requires a 5-cent deposit on bottles at the time of purchase.

The two organizations polled 500 registered likely voters across the state. 86% of those who participated in the poll said they'd support a modernization of the current law to include offering curbside or on-site recycling to all homes and business, according to a joint release.

"This poll shows support for our proposal that passed through an Environmental Protection Committee [in the Iowa Legislature]," said Michelle Hurd, president of the Iowa Grocery Industry Association. That bill, which still lives in that committee, can be revisited in the 2018 legislative session, which begins January 8. "We've been working on that with other stakeholders from the very beginning and since session ended last year to [try] to improve on that policy," Hurd said. That policy is to increase the accessibility and availability of recycling across the state of Iowa, she said.

She also said they want to provide a clear litter prevention program across the state. "We believe our policy proposal does that," Hurd said. 74% of those who participated in the poll said they support enacting a statewide litter control and protection program.

Hurd said that the 40-year-old needs to be revisited because recycling availability and practices have changed since it was first implemented. "Now we have this fractured system: one for recycling and one for bottles and cans, which is just three percent of the waste stream," she said.

"It's time for Iowans to look at the options we have today and move forward as a state," Hurd said.

Critics have spoken against a bottle bill law repeal like Mid-American Recycling in Des Moines, which is the largest recycling plant in Iowa. Scott Emery, general manager for the facility, said that to no longer have the separation of bottles and cans and curbside materials, which the law provides, would overwhelm Mid-American's systems and require a significant investment in order to expand and update the facility's capabilities.

"We really feel that the deposit law complements the curbside recycling," said Emery in an interview at Mid-American's facility in September. "We are really not able to handle those containers that would come into this facility via curbside [recycling] or other collection without spending an additional $7 million."

Emery said other facilities throughout the state would also face challenges because single stream systems—the process that deals with curbside materials—are "elaborate" and "very expensive."

"The bottom line is when you add all that additional cost, not many rural areas can afford to put a $15 million facility up in their small community,” Emery said.

Hurd said a key part policy proposal outlined in the poll would help address those concerns.

"As part of our proposed legislation, there is a recycling fund paid for by the beverage industry that generates up to $60 million to help increase recycling across the state of Iowa to help some of those challenging areas," said Hurd.

55% of those polled said they would be in favor of several policy proposals:

  • Repealing the 5-cent deposit consumers pay on cans and bottles;
  • Creating an incentive for the expansion of access and use of curbside recycling;
  • Eliminating the need to return bottles and cans to grocery stores;
  • Creating a fund paid for by the beverage industry to assist with recycling expansion; and
  • Creating an incentive for landfills and other recycling operations to expand efforts to include cans and bottles.

Other key findings suggest a majority of participants would not want to see an expansion of the deposit law to include more beverage containers like juice, milk and water. 63% voiced opposition to doubling the deposit amount to a dime.

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