DES MOINES- Iowa Grocery Industry Association (IGIA) President Michelle Hurd recently advocated for expanded comprehensive curbside recycling, warning that Bottle Bill expansion is pulling focus away from less-expensive, more-effective options.
"I don't think the complete story was presented to the public today," says Hurd about a press conference hosted at the Iowa State Capitol this morning to introduce a late-session legislative effort to expand Iowa's bottle deposit law.
"What we didn't hear was how the expansion will affect consumers," she says.
Hurd refers to a 2006 study from Massachusetts that found the cost associated with adding new types of containers to a typical bottle bill program is more than 7 cents per container. "Non-carbonated beverages are not bottled and distributed on a state-by-state basis but from centralized distribution centers as demanded," Hurd explains. "It costs money to create packaging, distribution and redemption models that are specific to one state, and those additional costs will be passed along to consumers."
Hurd notes that retailers have also expressed concerns about how they will accommodate the added quantities of containers that are covered in the proposal. "Grocery store managers have told me that they will have to add staff and use valuable retail space to accommodate the new returns," says Hurd. "The bottle bill has created a system in which retailers are largely responsible for handling can and bottle redemption just because they sell those products. The returns are often filthy and a health hazard. They attract pests and vermin. Grocers would rather focus on keeping prices as low as possible and their stores as clean as possible for their customers."
In response to claims that the proposed expansion would add jobs, Hurd counters, "Expanding curbside recycling would also be an economic development engine, generating jobs while including a much wider variety of recyclable materials."
According to Hurd, analysis of a proposal to expand Massachusetts' deposit law found that for $58 million in new operating expenses that would be incurred, only one-eighth of one percent would be added to that state's recycling rate.
"When looking at the whole picture, it is easy to see that expanding the bottle bill would prove to be the most costly, least effective measure that Iowa could take to increase recycling. It is the most costly because deposit/refund systems are inherently expensive to operate. Fossil fuels are consumed as users return containers to retail locations where they were purchased. They are then picked up and taken to a redemption center for additional sorting and bundling, and then hauled to a recycling center. Expanding the bottle bill to include water, teas and sports drinks will add even more costs. Compare that to the much more convenient, economical method of placing items into a bin stored at home and walked to the curb periodically."
Hurd also notes that consumers who have been curbside recycling for years will now have to take things out of their recycle bins and haul them back to the store or forfeit their nickel deposit. "It's a real step backwards if your goal is comprehensive recycling," she says.
The membership of the IGIA has been actively calling for a more comprehensive approach to recycling not only on beverage containers but all types of packaging products, including paper, cardboard, tin and plastics. They have campaigned heavily for increased curbside recycling. Their consumer education program called "It's Easy to Recycle" was launched over a year ago. The program emphasizes the ease with which many types of materials can be recycled curbside. The IGIA also gives away $40,000 to $50,000 a year in grants designed to encourage Iowa communities to recycle and receive money to purchase equipment for parks and playgrounds made from recycled plastic.
"We can do better than expanding an outdated 1970s, litter-control measure," says Hurd. "Focusing on expansion of the bottle bill is keeping us from deploying best practices for residential, single-stream recycling programs. We should be developing better promotion, education and incentives for participation in recycling more materials than just beverage containers. Expanding programs to recover materials away from home, at work and in public spaces will also boost recovery of all recyclables.
"How we recycle matters," concluded Hurd. "We need to look at what makes the most sense for the future."