Andrew Johnson's ordinance would ban Styrofoam containers in Mpls

Andrew Johnson's ordinance would ban Styrofoam containers in Mpls
Andrew Johnson

Did you know Minneapolis already has an ordinance on the books banning Styrofoam containers? Before he successfully ran for City Council last year, neither did Andrew Johnson.

"When I was campaigning I would come back late at night and go through city ordinances because when I had worked with the Longfellow Community Council, a lot of small businesses felt there was a lot of red tape," Johnson tells us. "And so, I was going through these ordinances and I found this one on environmentally sustainable containers, and I thought, does this mean Styrofoam is banned?"

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Turns out the answer is yes. City officials simply haven't been enforcing an ordinance that's been around since 1990, Johnson says.

But next week, the first-term City Council member from Minneapolis's most southeastern ward will introduce a new anti-Styrofoam ordinance. This time, he expects it to stick.

Johnson has declared war on containers of this sort.
Johnson has declared war on containers of this sort.

Johnson's ordinance would ban businesses from giving customers to-go Styrofoam containers, and would require all food or beverage containers to either be recyclable or compostable.

Most everyone knows about the environmental problems posed by Styrofoam. But Johnson says public health concerns also motivate his proposal.

"When there's food or hot beverages in a Styrofoam container, styrene leeches out of it," Johnson says. "It's considered to be a presumable human carcinogen and neurotoxin."

Johnson also addressed concerns some have expressed about his ordinance, including costs to businesses and overregulation.

Regarding costs, Johnson cited the impact of a similar ordinance in San Francisco, which is one of more than 100 American cities that have already banned Styrofoam containers.

"When San Francisco implemented this, more than 3,000 businesses were affected but not a single one filed a financial hardship report," Johnson says. "Yes, it does cost a little more, but as more businesses switch over it drives down the price as well."

Johnson got theoretical when asked to address worries his proposal takes us a step further down the road toward a nanny state.

(For more, click to page two.)

"If we're thinking in a truly free-market way, you need to account for negative externalities," Johnson says. "There's a cost associated with using Styrofoam that is not being paid by the business and not being paid by the consumers at the end point, and so therefore the market is not operating efficiently."

Asked to say more about those costs, Johnson mentioned both the negative public health impact of styrene and the costs of cleaning up Styrofoam.

"We have to pay to have our litter picked up, we have to pay to have Styrofoam taken out of storm drains," Johnson says. "And even though people see a recycling symbol on Styrofoam, our recycling facilities have to pay more per ton to remove the Styrofoam, and so there are these additional costs."

The Minnesota Restaurant Association is "on board" with his proposal, Johnson adds.

Johnson says he expects his ordinance to become law within two months after it's formally introduced during next Friday's City Council meeting. If approved, it'll go into effect at the beginning of next year.

Businesses found to be in violation of the ordinance would face an administrative fee.

Daniel Huff, director of the city's sustainability program, says those fees start at $200 for a first offense and double for each subsequent one, but adds that officials do everything possible to avoid fining businesses.

"With an ordinance like this, we work with operators before we resort to fines," Huff says. "It's one tool, but we try and use other tools as well."

And what if the ordinance isn't approved?

"We still have an ordinance on the books that says Styrofoam can't be used," Johnson notes.

-- Follow Aaron Rupar on Twitter at @atrupar. Got a tip? Drop him a line at [email protected]

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