In an effort to tackle the dual problems of food waste and poverty, France just 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 this week by the French senate, 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 to sign contracts with charities or face harsh penalties; additionally they will be prevented from 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.
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.