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St. Paul becomes latest city to ban non-recyclable takeout containers

It prompted passionate views on both sides of the debate.

St. Paul has followed the likes of Minneapolis and St. Louis Park in implementing restrictions on plastic takeout and to-go containers used by city restaurants.

By a vote of 5-2, the city council voted on Wednesday to enact its own "Green-to-Go" ordinance that will ban restaurants from using containers made from styrofoam and black plastics that are not biodegradable or recyclable.

From January 2021, restaurants and stores will have to use compostable or recyclable packaging for to-go and takeout containers, a move being taken to reduce plastic waste amid the city's wider efforts towards a more sustainable consumer society.

"The U.N. has made clear that we have about 3 city council terms to take local action on climate change before we face irreversible consequences," said council member Mitra Jalali Nelson, "and improving our waste streams and rewarding businesses who are leading the way on sustainability is one thing of many that we can do on a city level."

Around 100 city restaurants and businesses have already taken the steps of changing to sustainable takeout containers, Nelson noted.

But after 18 months of discussion, there remained opposition from some members of the city's restaurant community, who argued that it was yet another onerous and costly endeavor at a time when they're also facing pressure from the rising minimum wage and new sick leave rules.

Among those in opposition was Dave Cossetta, owner of Cossetta's, who said that he had already looked for an alternative, greener option to replace their current containers, but found they were impractical due to "size constraints and other limitations."

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Cossetta said it was unfair that large food producers like Hormel and Land O'Lakes are still able to use the same plastics for the food they sell in St. Paul stores, yet small restaurants are the ones being forced to make the change.

Other restaurant owners agreed with Cossetta that the alternative packaging available right now are currently not ideal for hot items and liquid foods like soup. 

But there were plenty who attended Wednesday's hearing to speak in favor of the bill too, saying the ordinance is an important step to reduce pollution, waste and our reliance on certain plastics.

"I’m a business owner so I do understand the cause and everything, but before everything I’m a father too," said Moussa Doulaeh, executive chef of Afro Deli. "And I am definitely for this ordinance."

Minneapolis just took a similar step for its household recycling collections, saying black plastics and Styrofoam products will no longer be accepted due to the difficult in sorting it and the limited market for sale once it's been processed.

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