Restaurants and coffee shops across St. Paul might have to do away with the plastic foam containers and cups many have relied on for to-go orders.
The city is looking into prohibiting businesses from using food packaging that cannot be recycled, composted or reused.
City staff is consulting with business owners to come up with regulations, said Dan Niziolek, deputy director of the Department of Safety and Inspections. If city leaders approve the rule, St. Paul would give businesses a year to implement the changes, Niziolek told members of the business community at a meeting Wednesday.
Meeting attendees nonetheless had concerns and questions about the switch. Compostable materials are more expensive and it can be difficult to find the right size container, business owners and members of local business associations said.
The city needs to come up with an ordinance that works for businesses and should implement it slowly, said Kent Petterson with the West 7th Business Association.
But some St. Paul restaurants, like Highland Grill and Silhouette Bakery and Bistro, have already made the switch to compostable and recyclable takeout materials and said it was worth the effort.
“It was a slight increase in cost, which is never good, but we feel like … being very friendly to the earth is very important,” Highland Grill General Manager Kim Lorsung said.
Both of the restaurants got local grants to help pay for the change, and used the money to buy materials and train staff on what is compostable and recyclable.
Many Minneapolis businesses used a similar grant program, which Hennepin County offered, when the city imposed its own packaging regulation in 2015.
Minneapolis enacted its Green to Go program a year after city officials passed the ordinance. That gave the city time to educate people and host packaging fairs, where they let business owners know what materials were available on the market, said Cindy Weckwerth, a supervisor with the Minneapolis Health Department.
Business owners said good compostable alternatives are not always available at affordable prices, and asked cities to work with them in those cases. For example, Minneapolis has exempted certain plastic-lined soup containers and coffee cups and their lids from the Green to Go rules.
“We’re waiting for the technology and pricing to catch up,” Weckwerth said.
St. Louis Park, which enacted a zero waste packaging ordinance Jan. 1, did not provide an exemption for such lids and containers, which is a problem for businesses, said Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association.
St. Paul will offer exemptions if alternative packaging is not commercially available, Niziolek said at Wednesday’s community meeting. It was the first of two gatherings the city is holding this week to get feedback from people who would be affected by the changes.
The second meeting will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Rondo Community Center, and the issue is expected to come before the City Council for a vote sometime this year.
Many attendees Wednesday were manufacturers and business association members, not food industry employees. They are often too busy to hear about or attend such events, representatives from St. Paul business associations said, adding that a gradual phase-in is critical to ensure everyone knows about the change.
Weckwerth said she is pleased to see that other cities, like St. Louis Park and St. Paul, are looking to join Minneapolis on this issue.
“It will help with consistency in practices throughout the whole metro area,” she said. “It’s really embracing forward-thinking as far as looking after the environment.”