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Minneapolis council member wants foam containers banned at restaurants

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Foam containers are used to carry lots of food and drink out of restaurants. But a proposal in Minneapolis would clamp a lid on their use.

City council member Andrew Johnson tells the Star Tribune the ordinance he plans to introduce next week will help Minneapolis toward its goal of zero waste by prohibiting restaurants from using containers made of Styrofoam or similar material.

The foam material is not easily recycled and most containers wind up in landfills. At one of his favorite skyway lunch spots Johnson told MPR News he usually sees a tower of them bulging out of the trash can.

MPR says the main difficulty in recycling materials like Styrofoam is that it contains a little plastic and a lot of air, with only five percent of a foam cup consisting of polystyrene. There are take-out containers that can be composted but the network reports they are currently more than twice as expensive as their foam rivals.

KSTP visited U Garden restaurant near the University of Minnesota campus. A staff member there said in addition to the low cost, foam containers are also lightweight and sturdy.

Dan McElroy, an executive with the Minnesota Restaurant Association, says that group would not fight a proposal to ban them at restaurants. McElroy tells the Star Tribune some members are concerned about a ban starting as soon as Jan. 1, but adds that many have already moved away from foam packaging.

Backers of a ban point out that more than 100 U.S. cities have one. KARE-11 reports most of them are in California.

But over on the right coast New York City may have one on the horizon. In December the New York city council voted to give city officials until July of 2015 to look for an effective option for recycling polystyrene. If none emerges by then, the containers will be banned.

Bloomberg reports New York's plan goes farther than the ordinance Johnson is proposing for Minneapolis. In addition to restaurants it applies to stores and extends even to those peanut-shaped packing materials.

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