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

Your takeout containers will change, but not stir sticks, straws, utensils, or anything you get in hospitals or grocers’ cold cases.

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.

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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.

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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.