French supermarkets forced to donate unsold food under new law

Signal of change / French supermarkets forced to donate unsold food under new law

By Gillian Phair / 29 May 2015

In efforts to cut its national food waste stream in half by 2025, France has passed a new law enforcing supermarkets to redirect their food waste stream away from landfill and incineration. The new legislation obliges supermarkets to donate unsold edible produce to charity and inedible produce for use as livestock feed or compost.

The law, which was suggested by a municipal councillor Arash Derambarsh, makes up part of the Loi Macron, which confronts inequality and economic activity in France. Supermarkets will be liable to fines of €75,000 or two years in jail if they fail to sign contacts with food donation charities by July 2017.

The new legislation has received some criticism, as supermarkets only produce 5% of the nation’s total food waste. Jacques Creyssel, the Head of the French Federation for Commerce and Distribution (FCD), expressed that food waste legislation should be applied beyond supermarkets.

Each French citizen throws out 20-30kg of food per year on average, which adds to the staggering EU total annual food waste of 89 million tonnes.

Derambarsh hopes to hold a roundtable on the issue of supermarket food waste at several key international events this year, including UN discussions about the Millennium Development Goals, the CO21 environment conference and the G20 summit.

Image: A feast you won't need to forage for
Image credit: Pookie & Schnookie

So what?

Sustainably re-purposing the waste steam produced by supermarkets has long been a stumbling block in efforts to reduce food waste. Food is thrown away every day, despite its quality, to avoid legal liability if a customer complains.

This move by the French Government follows the almost 20 year old Bill Emerson Food Donation Act in the US, which incentivises food donation by removing liability from the supermarkets if consumption leads to consequences. In many other countries, liability is an obstacle, and there can be the additional disincentive of tax on donations – as is the case in Poland. 

The legislation passed unanimously through the French Parliament, suggesting a shared will for change in the current food system. The issue of food waste is being acknowledged and confronted by an increasing number of groups globally. For example, restaurants have been established in New York, Leeds and Bristol that serve meals from disregarded supermarket food, and the UK Government has voiced ambitious plans for zero food waste going to landfill by 2020.

Recently, there has been a rise of 'freegan' and ‘dumpster diving’ groups and individuals in society, who search through bins at supermarkets for edible food. However, supermarkets often enclose their bins by physical barriers, meaning that dumpster diving is classed as trespassing and is criminally punishable. In France, bleach is sometimes poured in supermarket bins to warn these groups off. This action is now banned under the new legislation.

The development acknowledges the value of both edible and perished food in a context of rising food insecurity, It is another positive move towards developing a more circular economy by cycling nutrients back through the agricultural system for environmental and nutritional benefit.  Furthermore reduced food waste in landfill alleviates methane emissions – a major driver of climate change. 

It remains to be seen what further actions France will take to reach its 2025 goal to halve its national waste stream. Will this legislation encourage other nations to take a stand against food waste, from supermarkets and other sources?


Aljazeera (2015, May 22) France to ban food waste in supermarkets 

Guardian (2015, May 22) France to force big supermarkets to give unsold food to charities

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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