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Trash Talkin April 24, 2014

AUSTIN - The blue skies, the live music, the string of lights hanging from the trees and the sun shining brightly -- on the overflowing trash cans.

This is the scene Marcel Elizondo, a supervisor from Austin Health and Human Services, is trying to prevent from happening in the areas surrounding food trailers.

Currently, City Code Chapter 10-3 requires mobile food vendors to have anything they use, including propane tanks, trash cans and recycling bins to be attached to the vehicle itself.

If you say youre mobile, you have to maintain that state of being readily mobile, Elizondo said.

Rick Cofer, chair of the Zero Waste Advisory Commission, said that the health code has made it difficult for many food trucks to recycle or compost, causing the vendors to violate Austins Universal Recycling Ordinance.

Gregory Guernsey, the director of the Austin Planning and Development Review Department, said he is in the process of rewriting the land development code to include permanent recycling and composting regulations for mobile food vendors.

A recommendation to amend the health code was proposed at the Zero Waste Advisory Commission meeting on Wednesday while the land development code is in a revision process.

This recommendation included an amendment that would require food truck trash receptacles to be attached to the truck.

However, there are between five and eight food truck lots or courts that Elizondo said have proven to be problematic by not complying with the health code. Generally, these lots have centralized or detached waste receptacles.

Its these food truck court areas that have the potential to accumulate an excess amount of trash, partly due to what Elizondo said was a responsibility issue. Each food vendor in the area would say the trash wasnt theirs, and would rely on the other vendors to pick up the waste and dispose of it.

This is why Elizondo proposed a greater enforcement of the health code rather than an amendment at the meeting.

Eric Goff, a member of Compost Pedallers, said he has run into a number of mobile food vendors who wanted to sign up for the programs composting services but could not because of the health code.

John Savona, a worker at Skinny Limits, a truck providing juice cleansers, agreed with Goff and said he wanted to implement a recycling and removal system at The Picnic food truck area on Barton Springs Road.

Despite Elizondos concerns, neither Savona nor the other 10 vendors at a recent Austin Food Trailer Alliance meeting said they had an issue with trash overflow.

However, neither Savona nor any other mobile food vendors were present at the meeting to share their input. In fact, a number of local mobile food vendors were not aware of the meeting.

One of the vendors at the Austin Food Trailer Alliance meeting, Chuck Stephens of Regal Ravioli, said he found out about the commissions meeting through an email from a friend, not the city.

Chip Singer of Best Wurst said he valued the idea of the alliance to share this kind of knowledge, including new regulations that the city didnt communicate to mobile food vendors.

The alliance was started in 2011 but because of a lack of structure and other time commitments, it did not evolve until recently, according to co-founder Tony Yamanaka.

The lack of communication between the city and mobile food vendors, and between mobile food vendors themselves, led the attendees to agree on a formal structure for the alliance.

At this point, theres probably no one attending these city hearings on behalf of us, Whole Foods vendor Maura Purcell said. So I think theres something to be said for having this organization.

The attendees said they didnt have a problem with the health code regulations or the commissions decision to amend it.

Its about knowing about the issue prior to it being voted on and being able to represent yourself as a community, Yamanaka said.

Despite the alliances feelings about the lack of communication, Guernsey and Cofer said they wanted mobile food vendors to thrive.

It was for this reason that the commission approved the amendment to the health code as a temporary fix until the land development code is rewritten.

Speed is not the natural default setting for city government, Cofer said. But we need to codify this. The faster, the better.