Bill to nullify polystyrene bans draws opposition

Fifteen people testified against a bill that would nullify Minneapolis’ and St. Louis Park’s bans on polystyrene containers during a State House of Representatives committee meeting on March 28.

Testifiers included leaders of environmental groups, Minneapolis business owners and Ward 12 Minneapolis Council Member Andrew Johnson, among others. They said the polystyrene bans have reduced waste and contamination in the recycling and organics-recycling streams and noted that the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency delegates management of solid waste to local governments.

“The tools that the local units of government need can’t be taken away,” said David Benke, director of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s Resource Management and Assistance Division.

The testimony came about two weeks after seven Republican legislators introduced the bill, which would prohibit local governments from regulating any auxiliary containers, including plastic bags. Rep. Drew Christensen, one of the authors, said the goal is to help make products more affordable for consumers and help small businesses not have to deal with a “patchwork of regulations” across the state.

The Minneapolis City Council passed an ordinance banning most plastics in 1989, but it proved unenforceable, as the city didn’t have a means of collecting many recyclable materials. The council updated the ordinance in 2014 to re-ban polystyrene, one form of which is Styrofoam, and require businesses to use reusable, recyclable or compostable take-out containers. St. Louis Park passed a similar ordinance in 2015.

Johnson, who authored the Minneapolis law, testified that the ordinance has been successful in diverting waste and saves money by reducing contamination in the recycling stream.

“If this bill passes, it is a tax on our ratepayers,” he said.

Minneapolis restaurateur Erik Forsberg, who owns three restaurants downtown, said polystyrene is an environmental issue and asked the Legislature to implement the ban at a statewide level.

Megan Kuhl-Stennes, associate director of policy, advocacy and funding for Eureka Recycling, said cities should have the ability to respond to the needs of their community members. She added that these ordinances come with broad education campaigns that help consumers and businesses understand more about the products they buy.

Kuhl-Stennes added that plastic bags are a blight on the community and problematic to all recycling facilities. She said Eureka has several workers manually pull the bags out of the material it receives but that many still get wrapped around the equipment.

The organization spends two hours every day cutting plastic bags out of its equipment, she said.

Four people testified in support of the bill, including Bruce Nustad, president of the Minnesota Retailers Association. He said the “patchwork” of regulation provides problems for consumers and businesses, adding that it’s a competitive issue for mid-size and small retailers.

“We would content that this type of regulation is a great statewide issue instead of a city-by-city issue,” he said.

The House Government Operations and Election Policy Committee voted to move forward the bill on a 9­–8 vote. The Senate Local Government Committee has not yet taken action on the companion bill.