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Commission OKs recycling, composting plan for mobile food trucks

Monday, April 14, 2014 by Kara Nuzback

A city panel is working to encourage recycling and composting among Austin’s myriad mobile food trucks.


The Zero Waste Advisory Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to recommend amending city code to allow food trucks to use unattached trash receptacles, a practice currently forbidden by the health code.


According to the Public Health Services and Sanitation section of Austin City Code, a mobile vendor’s waste bins must be attached to the truck. “The operator must hold, store and dispose of solid and liquid waste in a receptacle approved by the health authority and comply with any other applicable city code requirements,” the code states.


Commission Chairman Rick Cofer sponsored an amendment to the code, which he said is the culmination of a yearlong discussion on the issue. “It’s time to get this done and make life a little easier for these mobile food vendors,” he said.


According to the amendment, receptacles for trash, recycling, compost or used oil could be unattached and placed on the property where the truck is located as long as the food vendor receives written permission from the property owner.


Eric Goff, co-founder of East Side Compost Pedallers, a private bike-powered compost hauler, said the current code leads many food truck vendors to believe they are not allowed to use his services. Goff testified in favor of the amendment, saying it would increase composting and recycling among the city’s mobile food trucks.


Marcel Elizondo, a sanitarian supervisor for the health department, testified against the amendment. He said if trash receptacles are allowed outside of the trucks, it would lead to other off-truck amenities, such as propane tanks, grease bids, tables and chairs. If everything is not confined to the unit, it cannot be considered mobile, he said.


Elizondo also said litter could become a problem in food truck courts, where no specific vendor would be responsible for the trash cans.


He said vendors only need to attach trash, recycling and composting bins to their trucks to comply with the current code.


Commission Member Jeffery Paine said attaching the receptacles was not an easy fix as the bins would have to be welded to the truck in some cases.


Greg Guernsey, director of the Planning and Development Review Department, said some units, such as Torchy’s Tacos on South First Street, have offices on the land where the truck is parked. He said because the land is zoned, the truck vendor can have outside tables and trash cans.


A piece of land with only a trash can and food trucks would have to be zoned as a waste facility because the trucks aren’t permanent structures on the land, Guernsey said.


He said a committee is working to amend the Land Development Code to address mobile food vendor courts. For now, he said, Cofer’s code amendment is not enough to allow food trucks to legally have an unattached trash can; zoning specifications must also change.


Commission Member Dave Sullivan, who voted in favor of the amendment, said he recognizes the difficulty of changing the Land Development Code, but the mobile food industry is growing. “We have to move in this direction,” he said.

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