Every year, 1.3 billion tonnes of food are thrown away worldwide, rather than being offered to charities and food banks. That could slowly begin to change though, thanks to a landmark ruling in France.
The French senate has banned supermarkets larger than 400 square meters (4,300 square feet) from binning unsold food, the first nation in the world to bring in such a ban. Instead, supermarkets will have to sign donation contracts with charities. The penalty for bosses not doing so is a fine of up to €75,000 (£58,000/$84,000), or two years imprisonment.
“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,” said Jacques Bailet, head of a network of French food banks called Banques Alimentaires, reported The Guardian. “In terms of nutritional balance, we currently have a deficit of meat and a lack of fruit and vegetables. This will hopefully allow us to push for those products.”
Food banks and charities will be responsible for collecting and storing the food themselves, so more volunteers and helpers will be needed to handle the new influx of food. The food must also be given out at a proper center, and not simply handed out on the street.
France wastes an estimated 7.1 million tonnes of food annually, although only 11 percent of this is by shops (67 percent is consumers, and 15 percent restaurants), so there is still a long way to go. Nonetheless, it is an important step towards a more sustainable society.
The campaigners behind the movement, which began as a petition by politician Arash Derambarsh, now hope that the European Union might look to introduce similar legislation across the whole of Europe, forcing countries to better manage their unsold food.
Under the French law, supermarkets will also be banned from deliberately spoiling food, such as by pouring bleach on it to discourage people from rummaging through bins, or storing it in locked warehouses.
When, or if, other countries will follow this positive example remains to be seen.