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Nanny-state city of the week: Minneapolis wants to ban take-out trays

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Part 2 of 17 in the series Nanny State of the Week

By Eric Boehm | Watchdog.org

MINNEAPOLIS — They came for your plastic bags, and now they’re coming for your take-out trays.

Minneapolis City Councilman Andrew Johnson says the largest city in Minnesota should join an ever-growing list of cities to ban foam containers, like the ones used by many restaurants for take-out food or hot tea and coffee.

In other words, he wants Minneapolis residents to eat cold take-out for the rest of forever.

TAKE AWAY YOUR TAKE-OUT: A proposed ban on certain types of foam dishes would leave residents of Minneapolis eating cold take-out.

TAKE AWAY YOUR TAKE-OUT: A proposed ban on certain types of foam dishes would leave residents of Minneapolis eating cold take-out.

Johnson did not return calls for comment, but he told KARE-11 that foam containers are bad for the environment and unhealthy for Minnesotans.

There are better alternatives out there,” he told the TV station.

But rather than educate the public about the problems with foam containers or encourage businesses to use a different packaging material, Johnson said the best solution is to impose his own preferences on city businesses and their customers.

There’s also an economic angle. It’s not profitable enough to recycle the foam containers (even though it is possible to recycle them, contrary to what environmental groups claim), so Minneapolis and most other cities don’t bother to do it.

According to Minnesota Public Radio, it would cost the city about $20,000 to purchase the necessary equipment to make the recycling process more worth-while.

There are more than 2.6 billion pounds of foam — technically known as “flexible polyurethane” —  consumed in the U.S. each year, according to Freedonia, a market research group.

But stopping restaurants in the city from using foam food trays hardly solves the problem. Most of the foam in the environment is the result of packing and shipping supplies, like the giant foam wrappings that come wrapped around new TVs or any other appliance, or used by construction firms.

More than 100 cities in the country already have bans on foam containers, but Minneapolis would be the first city in the Midwest to impose such a rule.  Almost all the others are in California.

Banning foam containers might be fine in Los Angeles or Santa Monica. What’s the worst that could happen to your food when the surrounding air is already a balmy 75 degrees at any time of the year?

But good luck keeping that plate of General Tsao’s chicken warm inside a paper container when the industrial-strength freezer of a Minnesota winter is running full blast (on Jan. 6 of this year, the high temperature in the Twin Cities was -12 degrees.  Yes, the “high” temperature.)

For his attempt to tell businesses what they use for take-out trays, Johnson brings home our “Nanny-state city of the week” award to Minneapolis. His prize is a plate of cold plate of poutine and lukewarm cup of Caribou coffee.

Full disclosure: The author  resides in Minneapolis and enjoys being able to get take-out food and hot beverages back to his apartment while they are still actually warm.

Boehm can be reached at EBoehm@Watchdog.org and follow @EricBoehm87 on Twitter for more.

Part of 17 in the series Nanny State of the Week

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Eric is a reporter for Watchdog.org and former bureau chief for Pennsylvania Independent. He lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he enjoys great weather and low taxes while writing about state governments, pensions, labor issues and economic/civil liberty. Previously, he worked for more than three years in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covering Pennsylvania state politics and occasionally sneaking across the border to Delaware to buy six-packs of beer. He has also lived (in order of desirability) in Brussels, Belgium, Pennsburg, Pa., Fairfield, Conn., and Rochester, N.Y. His work has appeared in Reason Magazine, National Review Online, The Freeman Magazine, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Washington Examiner and elsewhere. He received a bachelor's degree from Fairfield University in 2009, but he refuses to hang on his wall until his student loans are fully paid off sometime in the mid-2020s. When he steps away from the computer, he enjoys drinking craft beers in classy bars, cheering for an eclectic mix of favorite sports teams (mostly based in Philadelphia) and traveling to new places.