French waste law

France enacts tough food waste legislation

In an effort to tackle the dual problems of food waste and poverty, France has passed a groundbreaking law that requires supermarkets to donate unsold food to charity, give it away as animal feed, or face fines of up to €75,000 ($82,324) and two years in jail.

The law, which was passed unanimously by the French National Assembly, is part of a greater drive to halve the 7.1 million tons of food wasted in the nation each year — some of which is intentionally destroyed by retailers to prevent ‘dumpster diving’ by those in need.

Under the new law, supermarkets over 4,305 sq ft in size will have until July to sign contracts with charities or face harsh penalties; additionally they will be prevented from being intentionally spoiling food as it nears its best-before dates.

The law specifically targets retailers who have been found to be pouring bleach over unsold food so as to prevent it from being retrieved from the trash by students, the homeless and others who scavenge food from grocery store dumpsters.

“It’s scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible food,” said Guillaume Garot, the Socialist MP who sponsored the bill, referring to this scenario.

The law also seeks to educate consumers; the Guardian reports that of the 7.1 million tonnes of food wasted each year in France, 11 percent is trashed by retailers, but a massive 67 percent is thrown out by consumers — at a fairly incredible national cost of €20 billion ($21.95 billion) each year.

As a result, the government is set to establish education programs in schools and businesses about food waste, its cost, and how to reduce it.

Around 1.3 billion tonnes of food is wasted each year around the globe — with the World Bank estimating that this amounts to between one-quarter and one-third of all food produced. In spite of this, programs to divert and utilize food waste from large retailers are rare, and largely voluntary — motivated by charities and individual store owners.

Critics, however, say the new law will weigh heavily on the supermarkets, which will have to implement new and costly procedures to store and deliver their unsold products.

“Food waste only represents 5 percent of overall distribution, and this [law] would involve creating new procedures,” said Jacques Creyssel, the head of France’s main commerce and distribution federation, in a statement.

“We are the biggest [food] donors, with more than 4,500 stores having signed agreements with humanitarian groups,” he said, adding that his organisation would be urgently meeting with its members to evaluate the ramifications of the new law.

Some charities have also questioned how they will be able to afford or manage the logistics of sorting and distributing the donated food.