From croissants to confit, France is a land rich with culinary delights, and the French are known for their love of a great bite. But like other industrialized nations, France has a food waste problem.
The French throw away more than 7 million tons of food annually. The majority of this waste (67 percent) occurs in people’s homes, but around 11 percent comes from shops and supermarkets that discard foods that are either overripe, blemished or cosmetically unattractive, or passed their sell-by dates. Because they're deemed unsalable, these items land in the dumpster—but the reality is that many of them are perfectly edible.
Well, help is on the way for many of those abandoned French foods.
Last week, the French Senate unanimously passed a landmark bill requiring larger retailers like supermarkets to divert food headed to the wastebasket to families in need. All of it. That’s right, food retailers over 4,300 square feet now cannot throw away unsold food, but must donate it to charities or food banks—which currently receive roughly a third of their 100,000 tons of annual food donations from supermarkets.
Supermarkets that do not comply will be fined.
“Most importantly, because supermarkets will be obliged to sign a donation deal with charities, we’ll be able to increase the quality and diversity of food we get and distribute,” as Jacques Bailet, head of Banques Alimentaires, a network of French food banks, told The Guardian.
The best part? The new law was passed in direct response to a grassroots petition aimed at ending food waste and combating hunger. Nearly a million people who would like to see the policy extend throughout Europe have signed a petition to the European Commission.
It begs the question: If France is turning supermarket waste into meals for hungry people, why can’t we? It’s true, there is not a national mandate in the United States for supermarkets to fight food waste. As a piece last year in The Atlantic pointed out, such a law may not be appropriate in the United States because of the extent of the private food donation system already in place here, and a legal framework that encourages food donations. What’s more, some people fear that the logistics of donating food could be more costly than some businesses could bear.
That hasn’t stopped private companies from exploring ways to rescue and redistribute food before it goes to waste. Global Green is working with restaurants to relieve them of food waste and provide meals to thousands of families in the New York City area. Based out of Portland, Lean Path has created software for organizations to discover and eliminate waste where it happens – perhaps a solution for supermarkets.
And consulting firm Deloitte has partnered with food service giant Sodexo to study the issue—its causes, solutions, and even economic opportunities—even more through its new Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data (REFED) project.
“The most overarching finding is a lot of investment is needed in this issue, but then again, there are a lot of savings to be realized,” said Sarah Vared, the principal at Mission Point Capital who is coordinating the effort.
Photo credit: jbloom via Flickr