A new law in France is a boon for charities aiming to help hungry people. This law requires that grocery stores donate unsold food to charities instead of throwing it out when it reaches its “best by” or “sell by” date. Recent revelations about how much food the French throw away are at the core of this movement.
Although large grocery stores are only responsible for about 5% of the 1.3 billion metric tones of food wasted in France each year, they’ve gotten some bad press about it, which the average French person doesn’t face. Some stores have taken to dumping bleach into garbage bins to prevent people from removing unsold food from them, or locking their garbage in a warehouse for pickup. Some people have even faced criminal charges for theft after scavenging food from bins.
The new law won’t fix the epidemic of wasted food in the country, as private citizens throw 67% of that food away, with much of it still in the wrapping. The United Kingdom faces similar problems, and has established a voluntary agreement with grocery chains to donate unsold food. Legislators in the UK don’t feel that mandatory donations are necessary.
Food waste in this way is largely a byproduct of overproduction. Developed nations like France, the UK, and the United States grow more than enough food to feed their populations, but much of that food is wasted because it’s priced to high or ends up over saturating markets while other locations go without. Grocery stores in wealthy areas throw out food while other neighborhoods exist within “food deserts,” urban areas where people don’t have ready access to fresh food. The problem is further complicated by dates on food indicating when it should be sold by, which are required by food safety laws, but are often very conservative, resulting in food being thrown way well before it would ever go bad.
Last summer, French supermarket chain Intermarche created a campaign to raise awareness about food waste in a creative way. It’s nice to see that public awareness about unsold food has translated into actual legislative change in the European country.