Visitors to St. Louis Park restaurants next year may notice that their drinks will not include straws when served.
Unlike some cities in other states, St. Louis Park does not plan to ban plastic straws outright. However, customers will have to request them.
Typical plastic utensils will no longer be allowed, either. When the changes go into effect next year, all single-use utensils must be compostable.
The changes are part of several updates to the city’s zero-waste packaging ordinance, which went into effect in 2017. Under the ordinance, all single-use food packaging provided at restaurants, food trucks, gas stations, grocery store delis and other food establishments in the city must be able to be recycled or composted.
In addition to the rule on straws, the revised ordinance will mandate that recyclable cups and containers must have recyclable lids and compostable cups and containers must have compostable lids. All compostable cups must be labeled to specify that they are commercially compostable or certified compostable to reduce confusion. Alternately, businesses could use compostable cups with the logo of a third-party certifier of compostability.
Organizations that host food trucks will be required to provide containers for either organics or recycling or both under the planned new rules. Collection containers at food establishments will have to be located next to each other.
Council members voted 6-0 to approve the revised ordinance in an initial vote May 20. The council is scheduled to cast the final approval for the ordinance changes Monday, June 17.
Solid Waste Specialist Emily Barker said city staff members opted not to recommend an outright ban on plastic straws because some patrons, like senior citizens, people with disabilities and children, benefit from using them.
However, she noted that restaurants often place straws in her drinks when she would prefer not to have them.
“This would change that practice,” she said.
Quick-service restaurants could still provide dispensers where customers could take straws on their own.
“We decided that on the counter would be acceptable because it would still be by the choice of the patron,” Barker said. “You don’t have to take one.”
She acknowledged many people will still take straws but said some people will likely choose to drink beverages without a lid and straw. While counter sales may not change significantly, Barker said, “It would definitely impact drive-through operations and things like that.”
Plastic utensils have been a significant source of contamination in collection containers, prompting the change to require them to be compostable, according to Barker. People often mistakenly believe utensils that are not able to be recycled or composted should be placed in the recycling or composting containers. When proposing a mandate that such utensils be compostable, city staff members did not consider allowing recyclable utensils because they are not easily sorted at recycling facilities due to their sizes and shapes.
Barker said the new rules for labeling for compostable items are intended to decrease confusion for residents and businesses.
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell with different packaging where it should be going,” Barker said.
She said she often receives pictures, emails or calls from residents who said they are uncertain whether certain products meet the city’s ordinance.
“There’s some where we struggled to know,” Barker said. “ The biggest challenge, too, is there are products out there, especially online, that are not legit.”
The Minnesota Composting Council has supported legislation that would provide statewide labeling requirements.
“I’m hoping that we’re leading the way here, and maybe we can be first and others will follow,” Barker said.
Councilmember Anne Mavity said the city should add the issue to its legislative agenda.
“I would think it could drive businesses crazy to have every city try to do this differently,” Mavity said. “The more that we can help align that and drive that I think would be helpful.”
To Barker, she added, “We do need this labeling, unless you want to come to coffee with me every single day so I know what coffee cup (to use) and what to do.”
Councilmember Rachel Harris said that she previously worked as a recycling coordinator but still is not sure if she is making the right decisions when disposing of containers.
“I feel overwhelmed by all the variations related to biodegradable, compostable, made-from-plants and not knowing exactly what to do,” Harris said.
Of the ordinance revision, Harris said, “It’ll make consumers’ lives easier and then also streamline things for our local food service businesses.”
The new requirement to match lids with cups and containers would address a problem in which people throw a cup into a container for composting but the attached lid is not able to be composted.
Barker noted she had received comments on the proposed new rule, specifically about lids for hot beverages in which compostable products could melt more easily than other lids.
“We do understand that there are some products where we may need to have some flexibility,” Barker said.
The ordinance allows city staff members to provide exemptions to the ordinance in cases in which compostable or recyclable alternatives are limited or lack functionality.
The provisions relating to straws and single-use forks, spoons and knives will go into effect for all food establishments Jan. 1, 2020. Many of the other provisions will go into effect for food trucks at the same time, but other food establishments will have until July 1, 2020, to comply with the other new aspects of the ordinance.
With an implementation date more than a year away for many provisions of the updated ordinance, Barker said, “We hope that would allow time for the smaller businesses to get through their inventory and to work with their corporate offices on compliance.”
The date is earlier for food trucks because they typically have a smaller inventory and tend not to have branded materials that would need to be altered.
“The ability to switch is a little bit easier than, like, a franchise,” Barker said.
Councilmember Tim Brausen noted that the TwinWest Chamber of Commerce and lobbyists for the Styrofoam industry had raised objections to the city’s zero-waste packaging ordinance when it was originally proposed.
“It was going to be a major inhibition to commerce going on here, and in fact, I haven’t seen a single restaurant close because we imposed the zero-waste packaging ordinance on it, and I don’t regularly get any feedback from anybody about how onerous these requirements are,” Brausen said. “They’re just common sense.”
Michelle Longest, operations excellence manager for Kerasotes ShowPlace Theatres, discussed several ways in which the ordinance impacted her business at the May 20 meeting. While she said she supports the initiative in general, she asserted that compostable domed lids for frozen carbonated beverages are not readily available yet and noted other challenges, such as having to work with a landlord who is in charge of waste collection.
Barker emphasized the city’s exemptions process, which she said would apply citywide if necessary.
Regarding exemptions, she said, “We will definitely be making changes for 2020.”
Barker praised the operators of the theater for their efforts to implement the ordinance thus far.
“The theater has fantastic containers that are very well-labeled,” Barker said.
“We try,” Longest responded with a chuckle.
Mayor Jake Spano asked about the possibility of eliminating garbage collection entirely at restaurants, with collection containers only available for recycling and composting.
While Barker pointed to a food-service company outside Minnesota that has worked to eliminate all garbage, such as eliminating condiment packages, she said pre-packaged items in particular typically are not compostable or recyclable.
Of such an idea, Barker, “It would need a lot more involvement from our business community and stakeholders because it would be a very, very significant change.”
After the council voted in favor of the ordinance changes, Councilmember Tim Brausen called out other nearby cities that do not require recycling containers.
“It’s time you start,” Brausen said.
Spano responded, “I’ll call the mayors and tell them we still love them. We’re just moving the needle.”