Minneapolis restaurant owners react to proposed Styrofoam ban

Last Monday, the Health, Environment & Community Engagement Committee approved an ordinance that would effectively ban the use of Styrofoam cups and to-go containers at Minneapolis restaurants. The ordinance will go before the full City Council this week and, if approved, plastic foam containers will be prohibited on Earth Day, April 22, of next year.

Styrofoam restriction in Minneapolis is nothing new. The changes are actually being added to a 25-year-old ordinance regarding sustainable containers that was intended to ban the use of polystyrene foam, but was rarely enforced.

See also:
Andrew Johnson's ordinance would ban Styrofoam containers in Mpls

The changes proposed by City Council member Andrew Johnson would switch the use of Styrofoam in restaurants from a misdemeanor to an administrative citation and would ensure that only recyclable, compostable, or reusable containers are used in Minneapolis restaurants.

Opponents to the ban have expressed concern that eliminating plastic foam will lead to an increase in prices. Johnson's hope is that once companies start buying environmentally sustainable containers, costs will decrease.

Minneapolis does not recycle Styrofoam, and though recycling plastic foam is possible, it is also costly. Polystyrene foam is an airy substance with very little plastic in it, which means the cost of shipping it to a recycling facility generally outweighs the benefit of recycling.

Mesa Pizza in Dinkytown uses Styrofoam containers for individual slices, but said the ban won't affect them much financially.

"I don't feel like it would really hinder our business," manager Laura Saxton says. "People will ask for boxes and we kind of discourage it because they're going to eat here and then throw their boxes in the garbage. It's so wasteful."

Longfellow's Gandhi Mahal made the transition to environmentally friendly packaging before talk of the ban arose, thanks to encouragement from community members.

"[We'd] already gone through the process ourselves prior to any ordinance or enforcement of that because we want to be sustainable," Gandhi Mahal general manager Riz Prakasim says. "Our neighborhood is conscious, they're educated, and they have challenged us and we have responded in kind because we are part of this community and we want to positively engage our community."

Gandhi Mahal first transitioned to recyclables, then to compostables, and now composts restaurant waste and converts cooking oil to biodiesel as well.

"Whatever we do, we ask the question, 'Is what we're doing life-giving?'" Prakasim says.

The ordinance banning Styrofoam goes before the full City Council this Friday, May 23.

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