Rather than recycling polystyrene containers, one council member would forbid them. No solutions — only petty problems. There’s a pattern here.
Since 1978, Minneapolis city government has been a wholly owned subsidiary of the Far Left. Our once-great city has fallen into disrepair and ridicule as the result of single-party rule under which it appears that, in City Hall, there are no adults left to mind the store. And, after watching the new City Council roll out its “governing” agenda, it is clear that city leaders are more interested in trivial pet projects than in solving the complex and enduring problems confronting Minneapolis.
If you commute into the city (which, sadly, fewer people do today than 10 years ago), you’ve no doubt noticed the countless large potholes that dot our streets. Perhaps they are part of City Hall’s master plan to get us all to bike to work, but if you do so, wear a helmet, because the ruts in the road are significant.
And if you choose to walk in Minneapolis, be extra cautious, because crime is again on the rise. Make that violent crimes. A cursory review of citywide crime statistics in April shows that total incidents were up 4.6 percent over the same month last year and that they increased 4.5 percent over March. More disturbing is the random and horrific violence occurring around the University of Minnesota and spreading. Earlier this month, two young women were walking home in my neighborhood when they were violently attacked and stabbed.
Add to this the inventory of crumbling infrastructure and myriad social problems plaguing Minneapolis, and it makes you wonder why the Minneapolis City Council is focused more on renaming Columbus Day and forcing music venues to provide free earplugs.
This week we will find out if elected officials in Minneapolis are at all serious about governing or if they will be consigned to irrelevance. Specifically, first-term Council Member Andrew Johnson has proposed a ban on polystyrene, a type of plastic foam often fashioned into food containers. Polystyrene, often called Styrofoam, “accounts for less than half of the 2.6 billion pounds of plastic foam” nationally. It is not only used for food and beverage containers, but also for appliance and sterile food packaging. The proposed ban would cover only polystyrene used in restaurants, leaving our ubiquitous summer foam ice chests safe — for now.
We’re required to recycle everything else in Minneapolis — why not polystyrene? Simple: While the plastic used to make polystyrene food receptacles is recyclable, those containers are “one of the few types of plastic [that] Minneapolis doesn’t recycle.” We don’t recycle polystyrene because it is apparently too lightweight and, according to the city’s recycling manager, “transporting it to market [is] economically unfeasible. You are technically shipping air.”
According to Michael Westerfield, the director of recycling programs for the Dart Container Corp., Minneapolis could avoid the wasteful problem of “shipping air” by buying a machine that would crush and condense the polystyrene. A top-end $100,000 densifier machine could reduce “8,000 foam cups into a 40-pound cylinder,” according to Westerfield. If polystyrene is truly a problem in Minneapolis, pursuing a recycling alternative seems like, well, a green solution for consumers who count on those “clamshells” to keep food warm and beverages from leaking.
There’s no rational reason why Minneapolis couldn’t recycle foam. In fact, according to the American Chemistry Council, more than 65 cities in California alone recycle polystyrene foam. Those fellow travelers elected to city councils across America that beat Minneapolis to banning polystyrene are finding out that it’s not so easy being green. According to the Seattle Times, that community is having a difficult time recycling its alternative to polystyrene — “green” paper cups.
More important, this is another fad that will increase the cost of food service delivery in Minneapolis — not just for the small-business owner but for the consumer. Andrew Moesel, a spokesman for the New York City Restaurant Association, recently told the Huffington Post that plastic foam containers used “for Chinese takeout costs between 7 and 8 cents, while a similar cardboard container costs 15 cents and a biodegradable plastic container costs between 30 and 40 cents. If you’re using hundreds of these containers a day, as some restaurants do, the cost adds up quickly.” This presents very real economic consequences for small businesses, including many of the most ethnically diverse restaurants in our city.
The proposed ban on polystyrene in Minneapolis is both anti-consumer and anti-small-business. It is also the mark of fundamentally frivolous policymaking. A serious City Council would reject this proposal and focus instead on solving the important issues facing our city. But don’t count on it. It’s apparently more fun to solve imaginary problems than real ones.
Annette Meeks is CEO of the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.