Food Trucks, Waste, and Economic Opportunity

About the Author

Jeff Hughes

Jeff Hughes was the Director of the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) at the UNC School of Government between 2003 and 2019. Hughes currently serves as a Commissioner in the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Landfill or Reuse?
Landfill or Reuse?

How do you turn a small urban park into a massive culinary festival? Invite 45 food trucks to show up for the afternoon. Planning a sunny 50 degree day after a week of rain helps as well. “Food truck rodeos” have become a popular way of bringing people into urban areas to support small businesses and food creations that often rely on local products.  The crowds that come for these events pump excitement and financial resources into urban areas, but they also lead to some less exciting by-products such as trash. At one time, the main objective for festival organizers in dealing with waste was to do it as quickly and sublimely as possible — spreading waste bins throughout. Many event organizers have started to rethink this approach and there has been a rapid increase in no and zero waste events. Environmental festivals like the Eno River Festival have long sought to minimize their environmental impact, but this trend has not been limited to environmental events. Mainstream events such as the NC State Fair and Sports Events have realized that with a little extra effort on their part, the waste system can be redesigned to reduce the event’s environmental impact. 

The Food Truck Aficionados that attended last week’s Rodeo in Durham had two important choices — the first was what tasty meal to have and the second was what to do with what their waste  when they were through.  A soda can, paper plate and scraps put into a trash bin would begin an epic journey from trash bin to trash truck ultimately traveling to a faraway landfill. The same material put into a recycling bin and compost bin would be picked up and processed locally. How did the 6,000 foodies attending Durham’s Food Truck Rodeo do? For every one bin of trash that was sent to a landfill, 4 bins were collected for recycling and composting.

Low waste events have led to new and expanded economic opportunities for entrepreneurs throughout the state. Companies such as Food FWD and Brooks Composting have built businesses based on dealing with waste in new ways. Brooks Composting, a small business in rural Chatham County began 20 years ago primarily as an agricultural composting entity and now receives urban waste from throughout the state that is converted to soil amendments. Promoting these types of activities allow local governments to support economic development and reduce environmental impact at the same time.

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