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Plan to limit foam takeout boxes debated in Minneapolis

MINNEAPOLIS — A proposal to restrict the use of takeout containers made out of foam and other hard-to-recycle plastics advanced Monday at Minneapolis City Hall, following testimony from both sides.

Most of the dozen or so people who addressed council members, including environmentalists, voiced support for the ordinance before the City Council’s Health and Environment Committee.

But some opponents representing the packaging industry told council members that it would take away consumers’ choices, and that recycling polystyrene foam is possible.

“A ban on polystyrene foam is fairly drastic,” said Russ Snyder, plant manager at Genpak LLC, which produces food containers and packaging. “It won’t eliminate waste, and ... will be replaced by another form of packaging.”

The measure mandates that restaurants, food trucks, grocery stores and event vendors offer customers food only in cups, plates and to-go containers that are easily recyclable or reusable. Prepackaged food by a manufacturer would be excluded.

The changes, written as revisions to a rarely enforced 25-year-old ordinance, also expand the types of “environmentally acceptable packaging” to include compostable items and lower the penalty for businesses from a misdemeanor to an administrative citation.

If approved by the full City Council, the new law would take effect on the next Earth Day, April 22, 2015.

Mike Levy, director of the Plastic Foodservice Packaging Group, said that polystyrene foam is 95 percent air, and that “it creates a lot less waste, both in weight and volume.” He noted that other cities have looked at recycling the material.

For instance, last year New York enacted a ban on food stores using the material, but the city is continuing to explore whether there is an economically feasible recycling market for polystyrene foam. If there isn’t, the prohibition will take effect in July 2015.

Supporters said that even a slight increase in cost for businesses was worth it. A representative of Indian restaurant Gandhi Mahal said that they began paying a few cents extra for more environmentally friendly containers after customers challenged them to go green, and “we believe we are absolutely doing the right thing.”