The Debate on The Eco-Friendliness of Food Trucks: What’s Really Going On?

Since food trucks have become popular and perceived to be a threat to brick-and-mortar restaurants, the people behind food truck businesses have had to deal with so many obstacles. One of these is the consistent and persistent accusation that food trucks are not eco-friendly. They use fuel and cause pollution because cooking equipment onboard a food truck usually uses a generator.

For a regular bystander with no investment in both brick and mortar or food truck, the common assumption is that food trucks are less environment-friendly. As one person says it, food trucks run on fuel and make daily trips compared to brick and mortar which can rely on electricity and liquid gas. However, before one comes to a definitive conclusion, let’s look at the situation more precisely.

The Infrastructure

Instead of looking merely at the face value of energy consumption, let’s start at a more basic level. A brick and mortar requires land, construction materials, controlled temperature, utility connections, strong water supply not just for kitchen use but also for guest rest rooms, and a lot more. The investment needed for a brick and mortar is one clear indication of the amount of energy required by this type of food business.

A food truck does not need to invest in land or infrastructure outside of the truck itself nor open an account with any utility company. It has a smaller footprint on the environment.

Use of Energy

When in park mode, the food truck does not keep the engine running. Cooking is done with propane. The average consumption of propane for a food truck is about 900 gallons annually. This does not include the fuel needed to drive the truck around. However, keep in mind that a food truck has the option of using biodiesel and while it does need to run a generator for its electricity, the consumption is rather small since food trucks do not operate at night. They tend to rely on natural light.

The brick and mortar restaurant uses a combination of natural gas and electricity for its cooking needs. On the average, a restaurant would need about 38.4 kilowatts per sq. foot every year. If the restaurant has an area of 1,000 square foot, it would need approximately 83,400 kWh a year – and these are rates based on the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey. The kilowatt rate has gone up considerably since then.


Food trucks tend to have more waste because they have to serve their food on disposable plates using plastic utensils and glasses. However, there are now biodegradable plates, utensils, and glasses on the market.  Brick and mortar restaurants also use take-out containers and it may even be at the same volumes as a food truck if the restaurant offers delivery service.

Clearly, food trucks are not a threat to the environment – not with all the available energy-efficient technology and environmental-friendly materials.