The St. Paul City Council is moving forward with a ban on nonrecyclable food takeout containers, after a year’s pause to allow businesses to absorb other municipal regulations.
City officials spent years crafting a policy, mirroring what’s already in effect in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park, that prohibits black plastic carryout containers, plastic foam cups and other packaging that ends up getting thrown away or clogging recycling facilities.
“We know that overall, this is really critical to reducing our environmental impact,” said Council Member Mitra Jalali Nelson.
Council members voted in 2017 to delay voting on the ordinance for a year, citing the growing number of city regulations that businesses face. The council will hold a public hearing March 6 and is expected to vote the same day.
Businesses will have until Jan. 1, 2021, to comply. In the meantime, city officials will help businesses transition by educating them about the ordinance, holding fairs to showcase alternative food packaging options and connecting them to available financial and technical help, said Dan Niziolek, deputy director of the city’s Department of Safety and Inspections.
But some businesses say they don’t know how they’re going to make the transition.
Don Thompson, a manager at Goody’s Hot City Pizza on W. 7th Street, said he isn’t sure how the restaurant will cover the cost of trading plastic foam for compostable containers.
“We just raised prices a little while ago,” Thompson said. “We just can’t again.”
Cossetta, also on W. 7th, uses black plastic containers that are not recyclable. Owner Dave Cossetta said he looked into compostable packaging but found there weren’t enough sizes available to fit his menu.
Like restaurant owners across St. Paul and Minneapolis, Cossetta is already figuring out how to comply with new city regulations including earned sick and safe time and the $15 minimum wage.
“Being a small business was always kind of like the American dream, but it doesn’t seem so much no more,” he said. “There’s a lot of mandates that happened in the last four, five years, and this one here is basically pretty much with no alternatives.”
Council members have received hundreds of comments about the ordinance from residents, business owners and packaging manufacturers. Some questioned why the city hasn’t explored recycling more types of packaging.
Eureka Recycling, which collects and processes recycling in St. Paul, doesn’t accept black plastic or plastic foam because both are difficult to sort and sell, said co-president Kate Davenport. When those items are put into recycling bins, they contaminate otherwise recyclable items, she said.
Eureka also operates in Minneapolis, and Davenport said they’ve seen less contamination since the city’s “Green to Go” ordinance passed.
“You’re seeing more and more cities across the country take this kind of action, because it’s an effective way to address contamination, and also to address the waste issues in our society,” she said.
More than 100 St. Paul businesses have already made the switch.
John Kraus, who owns Rose Street Patisserie in St. Paul, said his four Twin Cities restaurants use compostable packaging for environmental reasons.
“We kind of saw it coming a long time ago, so I think that’s why we positioned ourselves to sort of feel it right off the bat, so that it’s not a shock,” he said. “And really, it was a personal decision based on how we feel about our future.”
Tongue in Cheek restaurant on St. Paul’s East Side has used compostable takeout containers since opening in June 2014, and factored in the cost as part of its operating budget, said co-owner Ryan Huseby.
Huseby said he wishes more businesses would use sustainable packaging, but understands that it’s expensive, especially for restaurants that do mostly carryout orders.
“I understand both sides of it,” he said, “but I think that it is an important thing for our environment.”