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Trashed: Minneapolis approves styrofoam container ban

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Styrofoam clam shells stuffed with your favorite restaurant, food truck or coffee shop's to-go food will soon be extinct. At least in Minneapolis.

The City Council voted unanimously Friday to implement more stringent recyclable packaging guidelines  – aimed mainly at banning polystyrene (better known as styrofoam) from restaurants.

The updated ordinance was sponsored by Ward 12 council member Andrew Johnson, and introduced last month. He tells the Star Tribune there may be as many as 10 million styrofoam containers put in Minneapolis' trash every year.

The new guidelines are set to take effect April 22, 2015 – Earth Day.

Current Ordinance – Present but Ineffective

As MPR points out, Minneapolis (along with its fellow Twin City, St. Paul) actually tried to ban plastic food containers way back in 1989. But it was poorly enforced and described by the station as "mostly symbolic." Johnson tells MPR the newly passed ordinance is "a redo, a retake."

Currently, Minneapolis ordinance outlaws the use of food and beverage packaging that is "not environmentally acceptable." (See the full ordinance here.) There are two outs: Hospitals and nursing homes are exempt, as is packaging that doesn't live up to the "environmentally acceptable" label, but there is no alternative available.

The new ordinance that was passed makes some tweaks and additions to the current regulations. That includes a more specific outline of recycling options that food establishments are required to have available, and more detailed definitions of some "environmentally acceptable" packaging.

According to KSTP, Johnson says the new ordinance actually legalizes compostable containers, and changes the penalty for not complying from a misdemeanors to an administrative fee.

Impact on Restaurants

There are a few allowances, KARE 11 notes, such as some plastic coffee cup lids, and cups that are lined with a plastic material; a viable, cost-effective alternative could not be found. If a restaurant has trouble with the switch financially, the city will consider those situations on a case-by-case basis.

But Dan McElroy, executive vice president of the Minnesota Restaurant Association, tells MinnPost, "We can make this work."

According to KSTP, the Restaurant Association says many establishments have already switched over from plastic to paper anyway, since the cost difference is almost negligible.

About 100 U.S. cities have banned styrofoam to date.

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