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St. Paul Roundup: City Passes Measures on Packaging

A quest for regulation that began in 1989 has finally ended in St. Paul. But debate continues over the city’s sustainable to-go packaging regulations, which the St. Paul City Council adopted in March. The packaging ordinance takes effect January 1, 2021. It requires restaurants, delis and convenience stores to package carryout foods and beverages in recyclable or compostable containers. The delay is meant to allow businesses time to use up existing inventory. The 5-2 March 6 vote came after about an hour of sometimes emotional testimony from both sides.

St. Paul actually passed an ordinance restricting containers 30 years ago but set it aside with the idea that statewide rules would be adopted. That never happened. The push for regulations was renewed a few years ago, but voted down and then tabled in 2017 by the council. The delays were made in part because of other pending regulatory issues including earned sick-and-safe time and a higher minimum wage.

What is recyclable is tied to the city’s contract with Eureka Recycling. It is possible to change that contract if markets for recyclable materials change. But for now, it bans items including black plastic and Styrofoam, which aren’t collected in the current recycling program.

The change won support from city council members Amy Brendmoen, Mitra Nelson, Jane Prince, Dai Thao and Chris Tolbert. Members Rebecca Noecker and Kassim Busuri voted against ordinance. Council supporters pointed to protection of the environment and the need to promote more recycling and composting. They cited Ramsey County programs that assist businesses with recycling and compositing, and urged opponents to get involved in those efforts. More than 100 St. Paul restaurants have made the switch, many with help of the county program.

Prince, who worked on the ordinance with Nelson, said the intent is to give businesses as much time as possible to make change. Another goal is to have curbside residential organics collection by then.

Looming climate change was also cited. “There is no other Earth,” Thao said.

Busuri raised the issue of equity and called the ordinance “simply unfair.” He pushed for the additional hearing March 6. While he supports environmental sustainability, Busuri said the ordinance unjustly targets small businesses, many of which are family and immigrant-owned, while hospitals, grocers and large corporations that manufacture prepackaged food get a pass. Noecker weighed in on the side of regulating companies that make and sell plastics, instead of asking small businesses to take on the environmental issues.

Groups including Hospitality Minnesota and its Minnesota Restaurant Association, and the Minnesota Retailers Association and Van Paper held a news conference at Mancini’s Char House March 5 to oppose the ordinance, citing the burden it places on small businesses.

“Comparable alternative products are on the market, but they are at double the cost,” said Liz Rammer, CEO of Hospitality Minnesota and Minnesota Restaurant Association. She and others pushed the city to find markets for black plastic and foam packaging, arguing that it can be recycled.

Rammer also said it’s not fair to put more rules on small businesses while hospitals, nursing homes and facilities that sell prepackaged foods are exempt.

Pat Mancini, whose family owns and operates Mancini’s Char House, said it’s unfortunate that the city has chosen a recycler that doesn’t have the ability to recycle black plastic. Mancini’s will do its part to change packaging after the ordinance takes effect, he said. But the leakproof, cost-effective options the restaurant needs aren’t available.

Scott Van of St. Paul’s Van Paper said the ordinance takes just 2 to 3 percent of materials out of the waste stream. “This is not the big issue it’s been made out to be,” he said, adding the voluntary shift by business should continue, noting that Styrofoam containers cost about 12 cents each, while compostable containers cost double that. Bonding materials in some compostable containers are under scrutiny for health reasons.

Restaurant owners spoke on both sides of issue, with Dave Cossetta of Cossetta’s speaking for several minutes and ignoring Brendmoen’s requests that he stop talking. Cossetta said he was speaking for several small businesses.

Other restaurant owners spoke for the change, saying it hasn’t hurt their businesses and is good for the environment. They said such an ordinance would level the playing field and that they agree with the opponents on expanding the ordinance to include more types of businesses. They also disputed that some materials can or should be recycled.

“I’m a business owner, and I understand the costs but before everything I’m a father, too,” said Moussa Douleh of Afro Deli, speaking about his commitment to future generations.

Several environmental and community groups, the faith-based group Isaiah, Eureka Recycling and citizens rallied in support, citing the ordinance’s environmental benefits. Eureka and other environmental groups asked for more specific ordinance amendments at a later date, because of removal of product labeling standards from the ordinance. A push will be made later to make product certification standards clear because products sometimes aren’t properly labeled.

Erin Pavlica and Kristina Mattson, cofounders of Zero Waste St. Paul, urged the council to adopt the ordinance, pointing out that 12 out of the city’s 17 district councils have signed on in support of the ordinance. 

St. Paul Restaurants Roundup

The big reveal of Allianz Field food options was April 10, after deadline for this issue. But when the field opened for the first game April 13, food lovers can expect a wide range of options. A beer hub will offer beverage choices.

Those planning the food options have indicated that local fare will be emphasized. Brasa and Afro Deli are among the options cited. The Major League Soccer stadium will have 14 permanent concession stands and 19 portable stands.

Longtime restaurants continue to close their doors in St. Paul. Forepaugh’s, which had operated in a converted mansion for more than 40 years, closed abruptly in March. The death of chef Kyle Bell was a major blow to the longtime St. Paul special occasions spot. Owner Bruce Taher had operated Forepaugh’s for 11 years. It’s not known what will happen to the iconic building and its antique furnishings.

After operating since post-Prohibition days, Kelly’s Depot Bar closed at the end of April to make way for a new apartment building. Originally the Depot Bar, the Lowertown mainstay had operated under Kelly family ownership since 1989. The apartment building developers hope to retain some historic features from the old one-story bar and restaurant.

Midway mainstay Russian Tea House has also closed, but not permanently. Owners Nikolai and Linda Alenov closed shop earlier this year so that Nikolai could deal with some health issues. The Alenovs have asked customers to watch the restaurant’s Facebook page for further details.

Yet another longtime restaurant is eyeing a closing or relocation. Brasa, a popular Grand Avenue spot, is likely losing its space to a proposed mixed-use development that includes a Lunds & Byerlys supermarket and four floors of market-rate housing. Lunds & Bylerys has owned the Brasa site for more than a decade and is working with store leadership on relocation plans.

One of St. Paul’s newcomers has closed, as a result of redevelopment. Just/Us, an innovative spot that opened about a year ago, closed in April after its building was sold to a developer. The sale means displacement of the popular tasting menu restaurant, along with low-income residential tenants on the upper floors. Just/Us hasn’t announced plans to relocate.

Michelle Gayer’s The Salty Tart has closed its Minneapolis Lyn/Lake bakery and is consolidating operations in Lowertown in Market House Collaborative. A Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport sales counter remains open.

Asian Street Food has opened on Arcade Street. And on Grand Avenue, a former hair salon is being renovated to house Treats, an ice cream parlor and tea house. That took a zoning change, which the St. Paul City council approved in March. But the change was fought by several businesses and restaurant, including neighbor Grand Old Creamery. Beyond issues of competition are worries about changes in zoning and Grand Avenue’s character. A zoning study is planned. 

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