Durham County

Food truck rodeos strive to go green in Durham

The lines at Arepa Culture, Pie Pushers and Pho Nomenal Dumplings were more than 20 people deep 30 minutes before the Food Truck Rodeo kicked off downtown Sunday.

The crowd soon reached a shuffle of thousands, twisting and bumping into each other as they tried to track down which of the 55 food trucks had the best smells or hastily downed one treat while getting in line for the next.

The Labor Day event was a chance for music, food and fund-raising at Durham Central Park. Food truck rodeos raise about $10,000 each year to support the park, officials said.

Park officials partnered this year with Keep Durham Beautiful and Don’t Waste Durham to put a greater emphasis on being “waste-wise.” It’s one of several partnerships and programs aimed at urging residents to recycle and compost more.

“Towards the end of the day, what you’ll notice is that we have only been through one trash bag, but we’ve been through three each of the recycling and compost bags,” said Tania Dautlick, executive director of Keep Durham Beautiful. “Sometimes people throw it in too fast, and we have to pick it out.”

At the last rodeo in June, volunteers kept 694 pounds of compostable items and 391 pounds of recycling out of the landfill, organizers said. More than 5,000 people attend each of the five events, they estimated; the fifth one is scheduled for Nov. 1.

Grant inspires rodeo campaign

A random survey of two dozen rodeo-goers shows there’s still a lot of work to do. Most said they didn’t realize the focus was on recycling and composting, but everyone agreed it was a good idea.

A $10,000 Keep America Beautiful grant gave officials with the local affiliate the idea of using the food truck rodeo for a pilot waste-reduction program, said Erin Victor, outreach and volunteer coordinator with Keep Durham Beautiful.

“We chose the food truck rodeo, thinking that’s a great opportunity where there’s a ton of food waste and recyclables that could be diverted from the landfill as a demonstration of how event organizers in Durham and the greater Triangle can be more waste-wise,” Victor said.

The money was used to hire Food FWD, a local compost hauler, and organizers also got food truck vendors to stop using Styrofoam products. Some food trucks also stopped using individual condiment packets and are actively looking for other ways to reduce their trash, officials said.

Ray Chow, owner of Hibachi Xpress, rested on a blanket with his family while trying out the competition. The key to a green food truck culture that also is affordable for businesses with smaller budgets, he said, is taking it slow.

“It’s a transition period,” Chow said “It might take a little bit of time to take place, but as more and more companies come out to develop those products, competition will drive the cost down.”

More information

More information about becoming a Keep Durham Beautiful volunteer is available from outreach and volunteer coordinator Erin Victor at 919-560-4197, ext. 21244, or erin@keepdurhambeautiful.org.

Don’t Waste Durham is a citizen-based group focused on consumer waste reduction and proper waste disposal. Learn more at dontwastedurham.org.