The Minneapolis Park Board wants to banish disposable plastic straws, utensils, water bottles and other single-use plastics from the events it permits and hosts by requiring contractors to provide sustainable alternatives.
Park Board Commissioner Jono Cowgill raised the issue earlier this year in an effort to cut down on plastic waste and encourage other government agencies to do the same. If the proposal is adopted, the Park Board could stop allowing disposable plastics at large-scale events starting April 1, 2020.
"Plastics are detrimental to the environment. They get into everything: They get into our lakes, they get into our fish, they get into our water and storm sewer systems," Cowgill said in a recent interview. "They're everywhere, and they're almost impossible to get away from."
"If we're ever going to get to a point where we are … consuming less disposable stuff," he continued, "our larger institutions and public bodies, especially those that are supposed to be and are the environmental stewards of our public spaces, need to take bold steps to challenge ourselves to get away from those things."
Single-use plastics are items used once before being tossed or recycled. A 2018 study showed 79% of all plastic waste is either in landfills or littered, ultimately ending up in oceans, according to National Geographic.
Locally, many of those items are found in parkland and on lakeshores, Cowgill said.
The Park Board probably would stop providing single-use plastic items such as utensils, bottles, straws, dishes, coffee lids and stirrers, according to a staff report. Those items would be replaced by compostable or biodegradable alternatives.
The ban would affect large park events such as races with water stations, parades and festivals, and would affect vendors the Park Board contracts with as they replace disposable items for compostable ones.
The Park Board report stated it's likely that a "high percentage" of events held or permitted by the Park Board already use alternatives to single-use plastics. The Park Board uses compostable materials at its own headquarters, and popular lakefront concessions are "mostly there … with using compostable, green products," Cowgill said.
There are some barriers to prohibiting all single-use plastics in Park Board events, including access to tap water and enforcement, according to the report. The report suggests new water sources could be installed in parks and that the Park Board could work with other government agencies to prohibit food trucks from using disposable plastic materials.
"It's my hope that in ending single-use plastics in our contracting, we can be a model for other municipalities to do something similar," he said.
Park Board commissioners were supportive of the change during a meeting Wednesday evening. A more detailed proposal will come back to the Park Board later in August or September.
In March, St. Paul joined Minneapolis and St. Louis Park in banning nonrecyclable takeout containers in restaurants. The Minneapolis City Council had voted in 2016 to ban all plastic bags before a state budget bill prohibited cities from taking any such measure.
Larger plastic bans have recently been enacted across the country. In particular, several companies have vowed to stop using plastic straws due to public pressure over their harmful impacts on beaches, oceans and marine life, according to National Geographic.
Banning single-use plastics at park events is a first step, and it would only make a dent in the amount of the plastic waste found in parks, Cowgill said.
"Us doing this is … going to move the dial very slightly in terms of how much pollution we have in our own system," Cowgill said. "It's a small part of a larger vision around sustainability … but it's something we can all have an impact on."
Miguel Otárola • 612-673-4753