France Bans Supermarket Waste; Stores Must Donate Unsold Food to Charity
France’s parliament voted unanimously to ban supermarkets from throwing unsold food away
This brings us one step closer to making a positive impact on our environment.
France has taken a major step in trying to combat environmental issues and energy depletion. France wastes one million metric tons of food waste annually — nearly 29 pounds per French citizen. Any food that is unsold in supermarkets, instead of being thrown out, must now either be donated to charity or put to use as animal feed or compost, according to Al Jazeera. All large supermarkets will sign a contract to legally bind them to the newly passed measures.
“It's scandalous to see bleach being poured into supermarket dustbins along with edible foods," Socialist member of parliament Guillaume Garot, who sponsored the bill, told Al Jazeera.
The current method of pouring bleach over unsold food makes the castoffs unfit for even dumpster divers.
However, the bill has been met with some opposition: The head of the French federation for commerce and distribution, Jacques Creyssel, said that large supermarkets account for only about 5 percent of the country’s total food waste, and he suggested that parliament go after restaurants as well.
This is not the first measure France has taken to reduce food waste in grocery stores: last year, French supermarket chain Intermarché started an ad campaign in support of “ugly” fruits and vegetables, encouraging customers to buy the deformed produce by offering a discount.
France Votes to Require Supermarkets to Donate Unsold Food to Charity
Supermarkets in France will soon be required to give away unsold food that has reached its sell-by date, thanks to a recent proposal passed unanimously by the French National Assembly on December 9. According to the law, the food must be donated to charity or be turned into animal feed or compost. Supermarkets will have to sign contracts with charities or face penalties, including fines and jail time.
The legislation, which affects vendors with retail spaces of 400 square meters or more, bans supermarkets from spoiling food products (often by soaking them in bleach or water) to prevent further distribution. It will also bring an end to a system that legally forces food producers to destroy entire batches of supermarket-branded products because of a minor defect, the Telegraph reports.
“Today, when a supermarket like Carrefour finds even a tiny fault with a crate of its branded yogurts, it sends the whole batch back to the dairy producer, which is legally obliged to destroy the lot even if it is all of excellent quality,” Guillaume Garot, a Socialist legislator who helped frame the law, told the Telegraph. “Today, the law makes it possible for manufacturers to give these yogurts to charities without even asking permission from supermarkets.”
Photo: Delpixel / Shutterstock.com
Approximately 7.1 million tons of food are thrown away in France each year, the Guardian reports. An individual person contributes 20 to 30 kilograms of wasted food a year, according to France's Environment and Energy Management Agency, while a petition set up by local councillor Arash Derambarsh states that a supermarket bins more than 20 kilograms of food a day in France.
In a day and age when food waste is becoming an increasingly urgent problem, France's new law sets a shining example for other European Union nations and the rest of the world.
After passing through the lower house of the French parliament with the full support of all parties, the bill is expected to come into effect after being voted on by the senate (the upper house of parliament) on January 13.
France Passes New Law Forbidding Food Waste
France is cracking down on food waste with unprecedented determination. A new law has been passed in the country that will ban grocery stores from throwing away unsold food. If it’s still safe to eat, the food must be donated to charity if not, it goes to farmers for use as animal feed or compost.
Supermarkets will no longer be allowed to destroy unsold food intentionally in order to prevent people from eating it. There are many people who forage for food in Dumpsters behind stores, wanting to take advantage of the perfectly edible food that gets thrown away on a daily basis and yet some stores retaliate, either by locking the bins or pouring bleach into them as a deterrent, a practice that Guillaume Garot, the former French food minister who proposed the new bill, describes as “scandalous.”
Any large store over 4,305 square feet has until July 2016 to sign agreements with charities, or face fines of up to €75,000.
Food waste is a tremendous global problem, with an estimated 24 percent of calories produced for human consumption never getting eaten. Most of this waste happens at the final consumption stage. The Guardian reports that “the average French person throws out 20 to 30 kilograms (44 to 66 pounds) of food a year – 7 kg (15 lbs) of which is still in its wrapping.” American shoppers throw away about one-fifth of everything they buy at the grocery store, according to a fascinating new documentary called "Just Eat It."
Not everyone is happy about the new legislation.
A group of food foragers called Les Gars’pilleurs stated their concerns in an open letter: “Food waste is a deep problem. Don’t stay on the surface!” They are worried that the creates the illusion of doing one’s part – a “false and dangerous idea of a magic solution” – while failing to address the deeper reasons for such gross waste.
“The fight against food waste is everyone’s business… but we can’t win it unless we profoundly alter the structures within our food system that are responsible for this waste.”
The supermarkets aren’t pleased because their food waste represents only 5 to 11 percent of the 7.1 million tons of food wasted annually in France. By contrast, restaurants waste 15 percent and consumers 67 percent. “The law is wrong in both target and intent,” argues Jacques Creyssel, head of the distribution organization for big supermarkets. “[Big stores] are already the pre-eminent food donors.”
Charities need to be prepared to deal with the increased influx of fresh food, with adequate refrigeration, storage capacity, and trucks, although they will not be responsible for sifting through rotten food to salvage what’s edible. It must come to be them ready to use.
Despite the naysayers, France’s new law is a move in the right direction. Wasting food absolutely needs to become a socially abhorrent thing to do – much like tossing garbage on the ground. If legislation is what’s needed to get people thinking about conservation and edibility, then it’s not a bad thing.
France becomes world’s first county to ban supermarkets from throwing away food
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.
Related: Study finds that cutting food waste could feed one billion hungry people
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.
Is France’s supermarket waste law heading for Europe?
Plans to introduce a French law that bans supermarkets from destroying unsold food and obliges them to give it to charity is irritating retailers who say they already make a big effort to fight waste.
Under the law, stores of more than 400 sq m would have until July 2016 to sign contracts with charities or food banks, and to start giving them unsold produce.
It follows a media campaign run by a young centre-right politician, Arash Derambarsh, who says he was outraged by the sight of homeless people last winter scrambling in supermarket bins.
A local councillor in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie, Derambarsh began his campaign by collecting the unsold food and handing it out to the needy. He then launched an online petition, which helped create momentum for the new law.
While broadly welcoming the idea, charities are also wary about ending up with more food than they can handle.
"This had better not translate into a poisoned chalice," says Olivier Berthe, president of the Restos du Coeur (Restaurants of the Heart) charity.
"We cannot be made to accept donations we do not need. We cannot become rubbish dumps."
Jacques Bailet, president of the French Federation of Food Banks (FFBA), also says there is a risk charities will not be able to cope.
"Our food banks are going to need more staff, more lorries, more refrigerated rooms. But to get all that, we will need money - and money is pretty scarce these days," he says.
The FFBA already collects 35% of its donations from supermarkets, and Bailet praises retailers for their co-operation.
The supermarkets themselves, meanwhile, feel aggrieved at being portrayed as food wasters.
"It is wrong to point the finger at the big supermarkets when we represent just 5% of food waste in France. In fact we are exemplary - with 4,500 stores having already signed contracts with associations," says Jacques Creyssel of the Federation for Commerce and Retail.
At the Leclerc hypermarket in Templeuve near Lille, manager Thomas Pocher says that for every seven customers who come through the shop, he already gives one meal to charity.
The store creates 250 tonnes of food waste every year, and has contracts with local charities. Tax credits - which allow the shop to offset some of the lost value of the goods - are an encouragement.
Pocher feels the new law would be a "nonsense cooked up by politicians so they can feel better about themselves", and that supermarkets should be allowed to solve the problem of leftover food in their own way.
"Here in Templeuve we have signed a contract with local farmers to make a range of soups out of wonky veg. This is stuff which was never sold before, and now we have a top chef designing a soup and people love it," he says.
"If you make supermarkets donate, it will create all sorts of problems. First, there is a lot of produce which I would refuse to give because it is not consumable. Second, what happens in smaller supermarkets where they do not have the backroom staff to handle the paperwork?
"The food waste issue is very important, but it should not be left in the hands of Greens and ecologists and people who want to change society. As businesspeople, we can do a lot by ourselves."
Derambarsh has other critics too. Some Socialist members of parliament are annoyed with him for grabbing the media limelight, when they have worked on the issue for years.
Others point out that of the 7.1m tonnes of food wasted in France each year, according to the Ministry of Ecology, 67% is wasted by consumers themselves, and another 15% by restaurants, while shops and distributors waste 11% of the total.
Derambarsh, the son of Iranian exiles who was born in Paris in 1979 and spent four years in Iran as a young child, shrugs off criticism that his ideas are simplistic.
"When I was a boy I decided that when I grew up I would do something to make society better," he says.
He has had a temporary setback though - France's Constitutional Council, which checks whether new legislation is constitutional and if the correct procedures have been followed, has rejected the law on a technicality. It must now be redrafted which could take some time.
Despite this, Derambarsh has set his sights on Europe.
Following the success of the French petition, he has a new online petition circulating throughout the European Union. The hope is to get one million signatures from at least seven countries, which would be sufficient to launch what is known as a European Citizens' Initiative - an official appeal to the European Commission to start legislation across the EU to ban supermarket waste.
At present the petition has just over 630,000 supporters. If it reaches the million mark, the Commission must consider the initiative - though it can decide to take no action.
France Mandates that Supermarkets Give Surplus Food to Charity
France's parliament just voted to ban grocery stores from destroying or throwing away unsold food. Instead, supermarket owners will have to donate the food to charity or give it farms to be turned into animal feed or compost.
This decision was part of a bill aiming to decrease waste and diminish France's environmental impact. The measure, proposed by the Socialist deputy Guillaume Garot, was approved by the national assembly on Thursday. The overall bill is still being discussed and will need final approval from the senate.
Larger grocery stores (400 sq m or more) must sign a formal contract with charities by next July promising to deliver all surplus food. Failing to do so will lead to a €75,000 ($83,000) fine, or two years in jail.
Along with cracking down on supermarkets, the bill will also look to curb waste in school cafeterias and remove the "best before" stamps on fresh food. This is part of France's overall goal to cut waste by 50 percent by 2025.
Why the US May Never Pass a Food Waste Law Like France
A new law passed unanimously by the French Senate makes it illegal for supermarkets to throw away or destroy unsold food. Opponents of food waste say the US should follow suit, but it’s not that simple.
Under the new law, French grocery stores and supermarkets will no longer be able to trash items approaching their best-before date. Instead of tossing these unused foods into back alley dumpsters, these shops will be expected to donate the items to charity. In turn, these charities will distribute these foods—amounting to millions of meals annually—to those who cannot afford to eat.
Any store larger than 4,305 square feet (400 square meters) is expected to sign donation contracts with charities. Failure to do so could result in fines reaching upwards of €75,000 ($83,500) or two years in jail. Stores are also prohibited from destroying food as a way to prevent so-called “dumpster divers” or “ freegans ” from foraging in garbage bins. As the Guardian reports , some stores were dousing tossed-out food in bleach—supposedly to prevent food poisoning—but more likely as a way to discourage urban foraging (which is gaining in popularity in France and elsewhere).
The new law also makes it faster and easier for the food industry to give their excess products directly to food banks from factories.
The legislation was inspired by French anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. They’re now hoping to take the idea to the UN in hopes of getting other European countries adopt similar laws.
France Mandates Unused Supermarket Food Be Donated To Food Banks
France has become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food, forcing them instead to donate it to charities and food banks.
Under a law passed unanimously by the French senate, as of Wednesday large shops will no longer bin good quality food approaching its best-before date. Charities will be able to give out millions more free meals each year to people struggling to afford to eat.
The law follows a grassroots campaign in France by shoppers, anti-poverty campaigners and those opposed to food waste. The campaign, which led to a petition, was started by the councillor Arash Derambarsh. In December a bill on the issue passed through the national assembly, having been introduced by the former food industry minister Guillaume Garot.
Campaigners now hope to persuade the EU to adopt similar legislation across member states.
The law has been welcomed by food banks, which will now begin the task of finding the extra volunteers, lorries, warehouse and fridge space to deal with an increase in donations from shops and food companies.
Supermarkets will also be barred from deliberately spoiling food in order to stop it being eaten by people foraging in stores’ bins. In recent years, growing numbers of families, students, unemployed and homeless people in France have been foraging in supermarket bins at night to feed themselves. People have been finding edible products thrown out just as their best-before dates approached.
Some supermarkets doused binned food in bleach, reportedly to prevent food poisoning from items taken from bins. Other supermarkets deliberately binned food in locked warehouses for collection by refuse trucks.
Now bosses of supermarkets with a footprint of 400 sq metres (4,305 sq ft) or more will have to sign donation contracts with charities or face penalties, including fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000) or two years’ imprisonment.
Jacques Bailet, head of Banques Alimentaires, a network of French food banks, described the law as “positive and very important symbolically”. He said it would greatly increase an already emerging trend for supermarkets to donate to food banks.
“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,” he said. “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.”
Until now French food banks received 100,000 tonnes of donated goods, 35,000 tonnes of which came from supermarkets. Even a 15% increase in food coming from supermarkets would mean 10m more meals being handed out each year, Bailet said.
Food banks and charities will, for their part, be obliged to collect and stock the food in properly hygienic conditions and distribute it with “dignity”. This means the food must be given out at a proper food bank or centre, where human contact and conversation is fostered, rather than, for example, simply organised as handoutson the street.
Crucially the law will also make it simpler for the food industry to give some excess products directly to food banks from factories. Until now, if a dairy factory made yoghurts carrying the brand name of a supermarket, it had been a long, complex process to donate any excess to charity. Now it would be faster and easier. “That is very important for food banks because this is a real source of quality products, coming straight from the factory,” Bailet said.
Derambarsh, who is a municipal councillor for Courbevoie, about five miles north-west of Paris, said: “The next step is to ask the president, François Hollande, to put pressure on Jean-Claude Juncker and to extend this law to the whole of the EU. This battle is only just beginning. We now have to fight food waste in restaurants, bakeries, school canteens and company canteens.”
Carrefour, France’s biggest supermarket group, said it welcomed the law, which would build on food donations its supermarkets already made.
France, so far, goes further than the UK, where the government has a voluntary agreement with the grocery and retail sector to cut food and packaging waste in the supply chain and does not have mandatory targets. However, a UK food waste bill, with similar provisions, was introduced to the Commons last September by the Labour MP Kerry McCarthy.
Of the 7.1m tonnes of food wasted in France annually, 67% is binned by consumers, 15% by restaurants and 11% by shops. Each year 1.3bn tonnes of food are wasted worldwide.
A report published in 2015 showed that UK households threw away 7m tonnes of food in 2012, enough to fill London’s Wembley stadium nine times over. Avoidable household food waste in the UK is associated with 17m tonnes of CO2 emissions annually.
The aftermath of the French Legislation on food waste – 26 May 2015
In late May 2015, articles, blogs, and newsfeed buzz quickly spread word about the French legislation freshly adopted by the National Assembly on the reported obligation for supermarkets to donate edible and unsold food to relevant charitable organisations. This achievement was the result of a yearlong study, led by Guillaume Garot, Deputy Minister for Agribusiness and Member of the Parliament. These measures have been passed to the Senate, who will vote on 10 July 2015. If passed, it will become law.
Following the adoption of this legislation, FUSIONS sought to identify stakeholder reactions and assessed the status of similar food waste legislation and voluntary schemes worldwide. Furthermore, a deep look at the original text of the legislation clarified several contextual points about the widely discussed food waste provisions. The following key points arose from this investigation:
A. This legislation is not stand-alone. In fact, the mention of food waste is within the umbrella of the French "Energy transition for green growth” legislation which addresses various other topics including provisions on renewables, CO 2 reduction, and energy consumption at large. The amendments on food waste were integrated at a later stage, presently seen within Article 22 of this legislation.
B. Food waste-related amendments extend beyond targeting supermarkets. Food waste considerations were amended into several existing French codes, notably the French Education Code, which indicates that food waste (topics) shall be integrated within school lesson plans, to raise awareness from a young age. Furthermore, the French Business Code legislation added “the fight against food waste” amongst its list of environmental and societal considerations that a company should take into account.
C. Although prioritised, targeted supermarkets may not be obliged to exhaustively donate all viable unsold food to charities/organisations. Rather, supermarkets that have a surface area of at least 400m² will be obliged to manage their unsold food within one or several of the four recovery options outlined within the legislation, depending on food quality. This recovery prioritisation mirrors the EU waste hierarchy, specifically:
- Food waste prevention
- Use of unsold and viable food (fit for human consumption) via food donation or processing
- Recovery of unsold and viable food (fit for animal consumption) into feedstock
- Recovery into compost for agriculture or for energy recovery, including biogas.
To address liability concerns, all retailers must sign over (via a contractual agreement) the responsibility for the donated food products with the selected charitable organisation by 1 July 2016 to avoid penalties including fines of up to €75,000 or two years in jail  . Within this contract, quality and usability of the donations will be underlined in practice, products can only be sent to charities before their expiration date. Although there is a real obligation to sign these contracts, the legislation does not outline the obligation to donate a specific percentage of their unsold food. For this reason, supermarkets could potentially choose to recover unsaleable food via composting or anaerobic digestion, rather than prevention or donation, if more convenient or cheaper for them while not necessarily exercising the contractual agreements with charitable organisations. Although contractual agreements with willing charitable organisations has existed in France in the past, it was not clear to all actors that these previously voluntary contracts indeed provide a mechanism for retailers to transfer the responsibility of their unsold food to charities. This legislation serves as a positive step forward in clarifying food owner responsibility.
D. A ban on the intentional destruction of edible unsold food may act as a positive driver for food recovery. In France and the UK, supermarkets have been known to pour chemicals on unsold food to ensure they are not scavenged before disposal (to ensure that foods are not consumed, as they are still legal owners of their discarded food). With the introduction of the legal measure (via contractual agreements with charitable organisations) and furthermore with the food recovery hierarchy, the legislation prohibits deliberately rendering viable unsold food unfit for consumption.
What about other countries?
Word-wide voluntary initiatives
Voluntary grocery and food retail store initiatives have been set in place by big UK retailers, such as Tesco and Marks and Spencer in light of cutting down food and packaging, however donation schemes have not yet been developed. For the time being, the UK government believes that any initiatives should remain voluntary. This view point is also echoed in Australia, where two food retail giants, Coles and Woolworths both voluntarily donate unsold food to charitable organisations (7.5% and 2% respectively per year), although the amount of unsold and landfilled food represents a much larger percentage, and furthermore its voluntary nature does not drive higher food donation levels  .
In the wake of the adoption of the food waste legislation by the National Assembly, an online petition hosted on Change.org was launched in 7 different countries by Arash Deramarsh, the municipal councillor of Courbevoie (France). With more than 530 000 signatures gathered within a two week period, this petition aims at gathering enough public support, along with the backing of influential public figures, to amend food waste law within the EU circular economy proposal. Namely, these provisions would prohibit supermarkets from disposing edible food if an association is willing to recover it (for food donations). This councillor has made significant strides in a short amount of time, and hopes that the movement’s momentum will continue to escalate in order to close in on positive (EU legislative) results in the European Parliament by the end of 2015.
Belgium’s supermarket donation obligation
Although this EU-wide movement has recently begun, supermarkets’ obligation to abide by the food waste hierarchy (prioritising food donation) has already been set in motion in Belgium’s Walloon and Brussels Regions via two pieces of legislation outlined in 2013. However, even if it is reported that supermarkets in these regions are obliged to abide by this law in order to obtain their Environmental Permit renewal, little information exists on its practical application and on its impact on food donation and redistribution.
France Is Going to Ban Stores From Throwing Away Unsold Clothing
France has been ahead of the eco-friendly curve for years. From a solar-powered road to upcycled installations, the country has continuously found creative ways to make environmentalism its mission. Following in the footsteps of a 2015 food waste law, the French government has turned its attention to textiles, making it illegal for retailers to throw away unsold clothing.
In the past, French clothing stores would typically discard any leftover apparel. Before being thrown away, these perfectly good pieces of clothing were often defaced in an attempt to deter dumpster scavenging, culminating in four million tons of unwearable, wasted clothes. Thanks to this new law, however, stores will now be required to donate any unsold articles of clothing to charity&mdasha move that will eliminate unnecessary refuse while also helping those in need.
For months, this initiative has been a priority for Emmaus&mdasha Paris-based organization focused on ending homelessness. In February, a Facebook photo depicting destroyed clothing went viral, causing public outcry and bringing the issue to Emmaus' attention. Since then, the charity has worked tirelessly to fix the problem, which French Prime Minister Édouard Philippe has vowed to tackle with this new law in 2019. “For the time being, there are no specific indications,” Emmaus' Deputy Director Valérie Fayard explains. “It&rsquos a preliminary road map, but it&rsquos good news.”