Iowa’s grocers are asking for one-on-one time with the governor in light of his proposal to expand the state’s bottle deposit law. The Iowa Grocery Industry Association has asked Governor Culver to be the keynote speaker at their annual legislative conference in Des Moines.
The association’s executive director Jerry Fleagle says he doesn’t think Culver fully understands how doubling the nickel deposit will hurt retailers along Iowa’s borders. "If you take a case of 24 times five cents, that’s another $1.20 a case on soda, beer or whatever you may be buying, and that makes it pretty uncompetitive," Fleagle said. "Quite frankly, we’ll see a lot of leakage across Iowa borders."
But the executive director of the Iowa Recycling Association says after 30 years, the nickel deposit is outdated. Teresa Kurtz says a recent survey done by the University of Northern Iowa shows Iowans narrowly support an increase. "You know with inflation, etcetera and everything, the nickel just does mean the same thing as it did back in 1979," Kurtz explains. "An increase to ten cents would propel people to take them back to redemption centers and retailers."
Kurtz admits Iowans are less enthusiastic about the governor’s proposal to keep two-cents of the deposit for redemption centers and environmental programs, but she says she’s optimistic a compromise can be reached. An independent redemption center owner says unless the state’s bottle deposit is increased, more and more of his colleagues will go out of business.
Troy Willard is co-owner of The Can Shed in Cedar Rapids. He says their handling fee from the state has not increased since the bottle bill was adopted 30 years ago, but their costs have continued to rise. "Just the cost of a couple employees and the overhead of rent and utilities, it’s 70 to 80 thousand dollars just for a simple set up to receive cans to haul it back to Cedar Rapids to sort. At a penny a can that’s quite a few cans we need to get to cover those costs," Willard says.
If the handling fee were doubled, as Governor Culver has proposed, Willard says businesses like his could open additional redemption sites to make it easier for consumers. Fleagle agrees, but maintains doubling the deposit would make beer and soda prices uncompetitive for retailers along Iowa’s borders.
"Whatever cost you build into the system ultimately the consumer is going to pay. There’s no tooth fairy out there that’s going to take care of it," Fleagle said. Fleagle says Iowa should consider scrapping the bottle deposit law altogether. He says that would make curbside recycling programs more profitable, since aluminum is one of the most lucrative reusable products.
Fleagle, Willard and Kurtz made their comments on the Iowa Public Radio Program "The Exchange." After the program, the governor’s office told IPR they have not yet accepted or declined the grocer’s invitation to speak at their legislative day.