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Minneapolis polystyrene ban advances, but it’s not a total prohibition

Your take-it-back-to-your-desk lunch might no longer be packed in a polystyrene foam container — or a number 6 hard polystyrene box— in Minneapolis beginning next Earth Day.

Earth Day, if you want to mark your calendar, will be April 22, 2015.

A Minneapolis City Council committee unanimously approved eliminating the polystyrene (both foam and number 6) Monday, as part of a recycling overhaul. Council members say the plastic is not commercially recycable, not reusable and not compostable. Polystyrene also does not break down in the environment.

Eliminating polystyrene food containers will apply to all food and beverage sales, including food trucks and temporary event vendors. It will also cover grocers’ hot food sales, though polystyrene will still be OK for meat, poultry and seafood in cold cases.

The new rules would also not eliminate the use of polystyrene stirring sticks, straws, knives, forks and spoons. They will not be accepted for recycling.

The ban would not apply to food served in hospitals and nursing homes, which the state regulates.

Riz Prakasim of the restaurant Gandhi Mahal testified for the council’s action: “We find out customer base to be high educated and they, in fact, challenged us to go green; it’s not that difficult. We strongly support the polystyrene ban.”

Ken Schelper of Davannis Pizza disagreed: “There are, from the tests we have done, some significant advantages to what polystyrene foam does as opposed to other materials.”

Schelper defended the use of foam containers “in terms of holding foods hot while preventing them from sogging out from condensation.”

“It won’t eliminate waste,“ predicted Russ Snyder of Genpak, which manufactures cups, bowls and containers for the foodservice industry and has a plant in Lakeville.

Snyder said that when polystyrene is removed from the list of acceptable products it will be replaced by another form of packaging: “We oppose this ban. We favor recycling.”

“I think it would be wise to take a little more time to work with this,” said Dan McElroy of the Minnesota Restaurant Association, who explained that the mandatory recycling bill the state legislature recently passed goes into effect in January 2016.

The state rules implementing the new law have not been written.

Some argued recyclable replacements will cost more, putting Minneapolis restaurants at a price disadvantage with surrounding municipalities that allow polystyrene. Hennepin County has business grants of up to $50,000 to improve recycling programs. The county also has free signs to promote recycling and other business support services.

Several environmental groups spoke in support of eliminating polystyrene, which makes up over 60 percent of the street trash according to a study done in California.

“Every curb in Minneapolis is now waterfront property,” said Trevor Russell of the Friends of the Mississippi River. “The raindrop that leaves that curb flows directly to the storm sewers untreated and into our surface waters.”

The penalty for continued polystyrene use of polystyrene would an administrative citation. There is currently no category for recycling violations in the citations list. Currently, a first citation is $80 and top out at $1,920 for a forth violation.

The full City Council is expect to vote on the matter on May 23.

Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by Jeannette Chapman on 05/12/2014 - 11:18 pm.

    Polystyrene Ban

    Being as polystyrene never breaks down, how about Minneapolis finds a way to fill potholes with it? Or uses it as insulation?

    I know I’m being snarky but I feel like there are more important things the Minneapolis City Council can address rather than takeout containers *such as filling potholes that are damaging citizens’ cars and helping low income citizens have properly insulated homes so they do not have such high utility bills.* Also, if the Minneapolis City Council is concerned with “going green” perhaps they should reconsider demolishing the Orth house as that decision is the least green action they could have possibly taken.

    I appreciate being able to post here.Thank you 🙂

  2. Submitted by mark wallek on 05/13/2014 - 08:36 am.

    Back in the 70’s…

    this was an issue. It could have been taken care of then. But no. Now, with real problems affecting the neighborhoods this issue is trivial. I’m looking at some lawns on my block in the Jordan neighborhood. I can tell who lives in the homes they own by the look of the lawns. The rentals, owned by people who do not live there (the renters themselves are fine folk) are depressing the value of resident owners property by the unkept and deteriorating conditions of the yard and exterior. Now this is a real problem as a deteriorating neighborhood does nobody any good. So forget the stupid issue not dealt with in the 70’s and deal with an important issue now.

  3. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 05/13/2014 - 02:03 pm.

    This move on the part of our City council is definitely in the right direction. We must work to remove from the waste stream substances like polystyrene that do not break down over time, and where recycling is, at most, theoretical (there’s no market, or not much of one–these restauranteurs and packaging moguls might best put their energies to finding ways to re-use these materials, to create a recycling market for them).

    it’s hilarious to those of us old enough to remember an America without plastics, to see claims that there’s nothing else that will do except these noxious boxes for serving food and drink. Please!

  4. Submitted by Eric Snyder on 05/13/2014 - 02:53 pm.

    Thank you Mpls City Council

    …For taking up this long overdue issue. There’s much more to be done in this city on our way to zero waste, but this is a good sign of progress.

    Thank you.

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