St. Paul restaurants can keep their Styrofoam and plastic to-go containers.
The City Council voted 5-2 against banning non-recyclable or non-compostable containers Wednesday, with several City Council members saying the proposal would hit local restaurants disproportionately hard. Council President Russ Stark and Council Member Amy Brendmoen voted in support of the ban.
If the ordinance had passed, materials that cannot be composted, reused or recycled would have been prohibited, an attempt by the city to protect the environment and reduce waste. Similar bans are already in place in Minneapolis and St. Louis Park. But St. Paul leaders said they will instead attempt a "carrot approach" through education and other efforts and revisit the issue in a year.
"Common sense has prevailed," said Dave Cossetta, owner of Cossetta's restaurant. He stressed that his restaurant wants to recycle as much as possible, but that some compostable alternatives to what he uses are not available or affordable.
Other business owners had also expressed concerns about the potential increased costs of switching to the eco-friendly materials. A Minnesota Restaurant Association representative said for some items, like coffee cup lids, there are not good compostable or recyclable alternatives.
Cossetta and Pat Mancini, owner of Mancini's, said the ordinance would have unfairly fallen on the shoulders of small businesses. Hospitals, nursing homes and grocery stores and their plastic bags would have been exempted.
"We were the only industry that was required to take over the whole thing," Mancini said.
Council Member Rebecca Noecker, whose ward is home to Cossetta's and Mancini's, said she supports the goals of the ordinance — getting more waste out of landfills and incinerators and increasing recycling — but the proposal hit small businesses too hard. Council Member Jane Prince agreed, questioning whether the ordinance would be more effective than educating restaurants to transition on their own.
"Is there really a need for this?" she asked.
But Stark called what was being proposed a "modest step in the scheme of things." He argued that the changes, which would not have taken place for a year, are a necessary step in the right direction. He said he had heard from "dozens and dozens of constituents" on the issue "and still have not heard one person against it."
But Council Member Dai Thao said the change "is just too much" to level on small businesses still dealing with the city's new sick leave ordinance. He said waiting a year will help.
"I think it's smart for us to direct staff to educate people about this," he said. "Then we'll have more buy-in next year."
Airbnb rules delayed
At Wednesday's meeting, City Council members delayed a vote on regulations for short-term rentals, like Airbnb and VRBO. The city wants to make sure rentals are safe and sales and lodging taxes are collected ahead of the Super Bowl, but Airbnb hosts and their neighbors are worried.
Airbnb hosts and users say they fear the city will stifle the growing industry, while neighbors said the city is not doing enough to protect them from increased noise, cars and activity. The council held off on a final vote to respond to some of the two sides' concerns.
"I'm interested in being as minimal as possible," Noecker said, as she and Thao proposed a change to allow triplex owners to rent out more units.
Prince said she will also propose changes next week that would increase fees on the companies, like VRBO, and decrease fees for hosts.
James Walsh • 651-925-5041