The Growth of Food Trucks and Their Impact on the Environment



Over the last 10 years food trucks have gone from being called a “roach coach” to being the center of food innovation. The low barriers to entry and the ability to focus on innovative concepts have resulted in an explosion of highly targeted unique approaches to food; Korean tacos anyone?

According to The Economist, America’s food-truck industry is growing rapidly. In their research they found that “America now boasts over 4,000 food trucks. According to IBISWorld, a market research firm, from 2011 to 2016 industry revenue grew at an annual rate of 7.9%.”


With this rapid expansion of mobile dining has come a significant growth in the eco-footprint of all of these trucks. There is the simple act of driving to and from the various locations as well as the fact that they oftentimes need to run generators while on site. A study by Closed Loop Advisors found that “Portable generators are far more polluting, on a per vehicle basis, than today’s automobiles. They lack catalytic convertors and the annual inspections that are required of automobile engines. This is because portable generators are not regulated with food cart use in mind. Most are used only intermittently and in areas less dense...”


Another challenge with food trucks is that every meal is to go, meaning packaging and cutlery are necessary parts of the business. In addition food trucks are usually unable to separate their waste into garbage, recycling and compost. This is because they often don’t manage the waste streams on site and most of the meals are taken away back to an office, home or park where there may not be proper waste management. NPR reporters found that “According to some estimates, food carts dispose of roughly 60,000 containers every month in downtown Portland alone. Some are compostable, some recycleable (though not through Portland's current curbside program), but regardless, city officials say most end up in the garbage.”


Nonetheless, food trucks have many opportunities to go green. One key opportunity is to match consumables to waste stream. They can make sure to have compostable products where they can be certain these products will go into a commercial compost bin. Or they can have biodegradable products like those from Transitions2earth® which will biodegrade even when thrown in normal garbage.

Another option is for food trucks to go green is to centralize their purchasing. Doing so minimizes trips to the store and minimizes the number of deliveries needed all of which can reduce their carbon footprint. While it’s clear that many food trucks purchase from club stores, more and more of them are starting to look to local distributors for their food and consumables needs. Distributors are well qualified to help the average startup food truck save costs and reduce their environmental impact through a careful review of their business.


With the explosion in food trucks showing no sign of letting up, it’s clear that this phenomenon is here to stay. And as these trucks mature as businesses it’s clear that they’ll need to start evaluating their business in a more sophisticated manner, part of which will hopefully include evaluating their eco-footprint.


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