Posted by: Simon | April 12, 2011

Street Food and Garbage Go Hand In Hand (Yuck!)

As a perpetually hungry Vancouverite who’s constantly on the move, I was quite pleased when the city announced that 19 new food vendors will be hitting the streets by the summer (read last week’s Courier article here). They will join the initial 17 food carts that have been open for a year since winning a coveted operating license via lottery. The majority of these new food trucks will be serving it up in the downtown core, while a few of the first batch of vendors are already peppered in other hot spots throughout Vancouver.

It goes without saying that the convenience of street food makes it popular with lunchtime crowds, peckish tourists, and, well, hungry guys like me. The opportunity to try new foods that aren’t available in restaurants is also an added bonus. However, realistically speaking, it is inevitable that more street food will lead to more street garbage: I’m talking more containers, more plastic forks, more napkins, more chopsticks, more plastic bags, etc.

Now, if there’s one thing I’ve noticed about Vancouver from my 30 years in this city, it’s that it seems to always have a tendency to be ill-prepared for certain basic city functions. I don’t know what it is really, but for some odd reason Vancouver streets are never ready for heavy snowfall in the winter. When they do happen on occasion, the city is not equipped for Stanley Cup riots. Earthquakes still seem like a new phenomenon. And of course after all these years, it never ceases to amaze me how overwhelmed the city is by the influx of garbage in the downtown streets.

photo: Andy Clark/Reuters

We all know what overflowing trash cans are like. We’ve all tried to throw away that last little something in a waste receptacle that was no longer receptive to waste, trying to balance our garbage between two Starbucks cups and a crumpled-up Blenz napkin, while taking advantage of the friction provided by a banana peel. Look no further than the annual summer fireworks celebration to see this happening at every garbage can along Davie, Denman, and Robson. It’s ugly. It’s gross. And it’s kind of embarrassing that this continues to happen on a yearly basis.

photo: Sean Orr

We all know what overflowing trash cans smell like. During the Vancouver civic strike in 2007 where garbage collection was halted for three months, anarchy ruled. Garbage ended up everywhere as every dumpster and waste bin had reached capacity early on during those hot summer months. It wasn’t empty coffee cups stacked on top of an already full waste bins anymore, but full bags of domestic garbage and other nonsense just scattered in the alleyways of the Downtown Eastside. It was ugly. It was gross. It was kind of smelly and I don’t think anybody wants to go through that experience again.

So I hope hope hope that the city is prepared to empty those waste bins on the street before they get too full with Korean taco wrappers and empty tortilla soup bowls. During the Olympics, it was nice to see the city adding more waste receptacles downtown so let’s hope they install some fresh bags and get those going again. But jam-packed garbage bins are not entirely the city’s fault. It’s people who are creating the garbage in the first place. So most importantly, I encourage all of you to think about why you have garbage in your hand and are throwing it out. Was the extra napkin or soy sauce packet necessary? Did your food need to go in a plastic bag if you were going to take it out and eat it 10 seconds later? Have you considered using a travel mug for your coffee? Let’s all be a little more conscious of what we’re throwing away so that we can make the city’s job of collecting it a lot easier.



  1. Agreed, however, at one point in India (before the plastic craze) street food was often served in green friendly Bannan Leaves, or wrapped in newspaper (a la fish and chips in the UK) but I suspect the multiple by-laws governing street food only allows for particular types of containters – hence more trash

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