Ken Rozenboom

Iowa grocery stores could opt out of accepting empty containers covered by the state’s nickel deposit law under legislation that has cleared a Senate subcommittee.

Senator Ken Rozenboom, a Republican from Oskaloosa, said his bill is an attempt to “tweak,” but not end the state’s popular “Bottle Bill.”

“The bill very intentionally makes simple, but fundamental improvements in our current process,” Rozenboom said to open a Senate Subcommittee hearing on his bill.

Rozenboom predicted his bill would lead to more business for redemption centers, but Troy Willard, owner of the Can Shed in Cedar Rapids, said without an increase in the fee for handling empty cans and bottles, it’s not a profitable business model for rural parts of the state. According to Willard, it takes approximately 25,000 containers to take one bale of aluminum, worth $500.

“I just don’t see that being enough to add much incentive in these rural areas where you’re not going to have somebody opening up a redemption center unless they’re getting an extra handling fee or they’ve got designation agreements with retailers,” he said.

Jess Mazour, a lobbyist for the Sierra Club, said the bill would make it less convenient for consumers to get their deposit money back.

“By allowing grocery stores and convenience stores to opt out, that will hinder a lot of people’s ability or just willingness to take things back if it’s not as convenient as possible,” she said. “A lot of people take their cans and bottles back when they go buy groceries and if they now have to make an extra trip, somewhere up to 20 miles away, we could actually see a reduction in return rates.”

As the bill is currently written, a retailer may refuse to accept cans and bottles if there’s a redemption center within 20 miles of the store. Mary Tarnoff of Fairfield, legislative action chair for the Sierra Club of Southeast Iowa, said it’s “not reasonable” to expect someone to drive 20 miles to recycle.

“It’s not just 20 miles, it’s actually 40 miles because you have to go there and you have to come back,” she said, “and that’s like an hour of your day to recycle and I just don’t think that’s practical.”

Rozenboom said his attempt to modernize the Bottle Bill, like countless others, may be doomed if competing interest groups aren’t willing to compromise.

“I think this is a chance to change that dynamic,” Rozenboom said at the hearing’s conclusion, “and I’d encourage each one of you to be part of a solution rather than part of the problem.”

Beer and liquor distributors keep all the deposit fees that are not redeemed today and Rosenboom said it’s grown “into a very large sum of money.” His bill would have that money turned over the state.