Apr 26, 2021 - News

Iowa isn't sure if bottle deposits went unclaimed during the pandemic

Photo: Christian Charisius/picture alliance via Getty Images

With the record amount of beverages consumed last year, there's no doubt people across Iowa accumulated a lot of recycling.

The state of play: The ability to easily return said recycling for its 5-cent deposit was dampened due to the state's emergency pandemic proclamation, but the Iowa Department of Natural Resources isn't really sure how many deposits went unclaimed in 2020.

  • "Nobody really has [the answer]," the DNR's Amie Davidson told Axios
  • She said the best people who may know how many bottles and cans were actually redeemed in 2020 are beverage distributors, but they're not required to share that information.
  • The DNR sometimes tries to estimate the rate of bottles and cans that were redeemed both for the nickel deposit and through traditional recycling. In 2005 it was 93%. That dropped to 86% in 2007 and 71% in 2018.

The backdrop: Iowa is one of 10 states with a bottle bill designed to reduce recyclables in landfills by charging consumers a nickel for bottle/can purchases, which can be returned when empties are returned.

  • Gas stations and grocery stores are required to take back the recyclables they sell, but they've lobbied against their inclusion for years, arguing it's costly and dirty.
  • Gov. Kim Reynolds allowed stores to temporarily deny redemptions during the pandemic, but resumed the law July 25.

What's next: Legislation allowing some stores to refuse bottle returns is going through the Capitol right now. And the Iowa DNR is in talks about conducting another recovery rate study either this year or 2022.


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