If you want to hear a wide range of firm opinions, just ask Iowans about the state’s can-and-bottle deposit law.
Some will tell you it’s worthwhile and necessary, a small price to pay to promote recycling and protect the environment. The program results in far fewer cans and bottles in our landfills.
Others will say that the “bottle bill” is a hassle and a headache, especially for businesses, and that the law has outlived its purpose. After all, people are more comfortable with recycling and litter prevention than they were in the 1970s.
In our view, both sides have valid points. The bottle bill has diverted millions upon millions of containers from Iowa landfills. It’s also true that retailers consider it a headache to handle the empties — and do so for meager remuneration.
The economics aren’t hard to grasp. There’s little financial incentive for retailers to deal with deposits and redemption. The deposit has been a nickel for more than 40 years. If the deposit increased occasionally to keep up with inflation — as it has for other expenses, it would now be about 35 cents per container.
That makes it an unappealing prospect for retailers. But it’s still the law. Retailers shouldn’t be allowed to simply refuse to follow it anymore than they could refuse to follow any other law.
Yet that’s exactly what’s happening. Center Redemption in Dubuque has been swamped for months with twice the normal number of can returns. Veterans Freedom Center, which also accepts cans donated for redemption to fund its mission, has seen donations double.
For several months in 2020, the requirement that stores take back cans and bottles they sell was temporarily removed by Gov. Kim Reynolds. Though that suspension has long since expired, Dubuque customers have found that some stores still aren’t taking back cans. The only exception is if the store enters into an Iowa Department of Natural Resources-approved agreement with a redemption center like Center Redemption. Hy-Vee supermarkets in Dubuque are the only local stores with such an agreement in place.
So while Hy-Vee customers are directed to Center Redemption, all other grocery stores and convenience stores should still be accepting cans and bottles. That’s the law, and it should be enforced.
A side issue with the deposit is the many drinks it doesn’t cover. Almost no one was buying bottled water in 1970s — or smart water, or vitamin water. The prevalence of those products, along with sports drinks and other beverages, has exploded. Yet they don’t come with the nickel deposit. If the premise of the law was to reduce litter and impact on landfills, then more containers should be included.
Iowa lawmakers long have talked about changing the bottle bill, but each year, the can (or plastic bottle) just gets kicked down the road.
Unless and until that law is rewritten or taken off, state officials must enforce the law we have.