Now they mean it.

More than two decades after Minneapolis officials banned polystyrene containers, the City Council on Friday voted unanimously to reduce the fine for violations, but to step up enforcement.

The move could mean that the familiar white foam coffee cups and food-to-go containers will soon — and once and for all — be removed from the fast-food landscape, and consequently from the city's waste stream, said Council Member Andrew Johnson, who sponsored the measure. The measure also legalizes compostable food containers.

"Essentially, we're going to start enforcing this, and it's now improved," Johnson said. "We're rebanning it."

The move primarily affects local restaurants and other establishments that send food out the door in polystyrene, also known as Styrofoam, which Johnson asserted can leach cancer-linked chemicals into food, particularly hot food.

Violators will pay an administrative fee, less than the fine for what had been a misdemeanor. But they'll face tougher scrutiny, Johnson vowed.

He estimated there could be as many as 10 million polystyrene containers in Minneapolis trash each year. The material is essentially not recyclable because it is too hard to clean and there is little market for it. Allowing it in trash and recyclable materials adds costs to processing those, Johnson said, because people have to remove it before processing.

Dozens of other cities around the country have also banned polystyrene containers.

The Minneapolis ban will take effect April 22, 2015 (that's Earth Day).

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.

At a public hearing earlier this month, 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 is possible.

Johnson said at the time that the city wants to think about any possible impact on businesses while at the same time working toward becoming a "zero waste" city.

Bill McAuliffe 612-673-7646

Catherine Preus 612-673-1788