Grocery bag

A city working group is recommending the city begin the process of banning single-use plastics, including bags, cups and containers. (Griffin Wooldridge/Upload)

A Northfield Environmental Quality Commission working group is recommending the city begin the process of banning single-use plastics.

Such plastic objects typically include grocery bags, food packaging, bottles, straws, containers, cups and cutlery.

According to a draft document, the plan is for city staff to seek an end for retail and restaurant sales shortly after the negative economic conditions precipitated by COVID-19 end.

The city could follow Brooklyn Center’s lead in eliminating the purchase and use of one-time plastic and styrofoam plates, utensils, cups and straws with city funds for all city buildings and activities. Current supplies are expected to continue to be used, and when new supplies are needed, alternatives will be sought.

Businesses will be consulted during the process. The program at first is expected to be voluntary.

“If we can do this in a way that can be simple and cost-effective for them, then I think they will support it,” said city Program Coordinator Beth Kallestad.

In the lead up to the recommendation, the subcommittee, tasked with focusing on materials and waste, researched what other communities are doing in regard to single-use plastics. The city’s Climate Action Plan includes an initiative to eliminate as much excess plastic as possible.

The draft document states if the cost to eliminate single-use plastics is too significant, Kallestad will seek a less costly option or make note of where those costs are. If that occurs, staff are expected to be able to, at least temporarily, go with the less sustainable option.

“It’s a good, tangible step, visible thing that we can work on,” Kallestad said. “Waste is a huge issue around the world, and we know that the recycling markets are not what they used to be.”

According to a United Nations report, nearly 50% of the plastic waste generated globally was from plastic packaging. However, state law prohibits cities from crafting ordinances to ban plastic bags, so cities that regulate single-use plastics typically impose fines and insist on educational activities to reduce use.

“Plastic pollution is harming wildlife and impairing ecosystems and landscapes all over the world, but it also has local impacts,” said Environmental Quality Commission Chairwoman Kim Smith. “Reducing plastic waste will help prolong the useful life of the landfill, reduce the city’s waste disposal costs, and reduce plastic litter.”

To Smith, customers are increasingly demanding better, more environmentally friendly packaging. She noted companies like McDonald’s and Walt Disney Co. have pledged to eliminate plastic waste.

“Northfield businesses have the chance to take the lead on this issue by making the switch to recycled and compostable packaging sooner rather than later,” she said. “I think retail businesses in particular are going to find that better packaging isn’t a cost so much as a selling point.”

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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