Trash: The Downside of Street Food

Jonathan Kauffman
Aftermath of an evening at the Off the Grid food-truck gathering.
After eating a dozen or so food-truck meals in the past few weeks, the disgusting side of the Summer of Truck became apparent: all that trash. I ended up with boxes in my car, boxes strapped to my bike, enough grease-stained paper bags to fuel a bonfire, and napkins in places napkins should never go. Even when I ate standing up, next to the source of the food, a couple of the trucks didn't set up trash bins, so I had to pack my own trash out. Sure, I recycled or composted most of it, but I'd rather have less of it in the first place.

The trash problem hit its peak at the weekly Off the Grid street-food gathering at Fort Mason Center, when two friends and I accumulated the above pile of detritus. When I spoke to Off the Grid's organizer Matt Cohen yesterday, I asked him if there was any way to cut down on the mess:

"In six weeks, Off the Grid has gone from a three-hour event with 300 people an hour to a four-hour event with more than 700 people coming every hour," Cohen said. "We're learning as we go. After using the farmers' market model, asking each vendor to put a trash can in front of their booth and clean up after themselves, we're just charging people more and hiring people to maintain the trash."

What about having customers bring their own containers, I asked. "Well, the trucks are working in a go-go-go environment, and so that makes it really difficult for them. Plus, they don't want unclean dishes in their kitchens."

Both Cohen and I think there has to be a better ― and more affordable ― way to eat a lot of street food without generating a lot of waste. Any ideas?

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie. Follow me at @JonKauffman.

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