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Mpls. businesses, citizens weigh in on foam ban at public hearing

  • Blog Post by: Maya Rao
  • May 12, 2014 - 5:33 PM

A proposal that would restrict the use of takeout containers made out of Styrofoam and other hard-to-recycle plastics drew testimony from more than a dozen people before a City Council panel today, ranging from environmentalists to advocates of the plastic industry.

The measure mandates that restaurants offer customers food only in cups, plates, and to-go containers that are easily recyclable. Prepackaged food by a manufacturer would be excluded.

The changes, which are being written as revisions to a rarely-enforced 25 year-old ordinance, also expand the types of “environmentally acceptable packaging” to include compostable items and lower the penalty for businesses from a misdemeanor to an administrative citation. The new law would take effect on the next Earth Day: April 22, 2015.

Various small business owners, including the Indian restaurant Gandhi Mahal, testified in support of the packaging restrictions. Some opponents who represent the packaging industry, though, told council members that it would take away consumers’ choices and that recycling polystyrene foam – commonly known as Styrofoam – is possible.

“A ban on polystyrene foam is fairly drastic,” said Russ Snyder, plant manager at Genpak LLC, which produces food containers and packaging. “It won’t eliminate waste, and … will be replaced by another form of packaging.”

Mike Levy, director of the Plastic Foodservice Packaging Group, said that polystyrene foam is 95 percent air, and that “it creates a lot less waste, both in weight and volume.” He noted that other cities have all looked at recycling the material.

For instance, last year New York enacted a ban on food stores using the material, but the city is continuing to explore whether there is an economically feasible recycling market for polystyrene foam. If there isn’t, the prohibition will take effect July 2015.

Dan McElroy, of the Minnesota Restaurant Association, offered general support for the proposal but disputed some of the details, and suggested that the city launch a similar pilot program for recycling Styrofoam before banning it.

“The bottom line for my members is we want to be good environmental citizens,” he said.

Council Member Andrew Johnson, who introduced the proposal, said the city wants to think about any possible impact on businesses – but that everyone is already paying the environmental and health costs of restaurants using such packaging.

© 2014 Star Tribune