What We Can Learn From France’s Ban On Food Waste
The common interpretation of the ban was that it made it illegal for supermarkets to dispose of food waste and instead donate it to charity. Was that an accurate analysis?
Contrary to media reports, the law was not an absolute ban on food waste. Some food still ends up in landfill. Its primary function requires large food waste generators to follow the waste hierarchy of prevention, recovery, and recycling — the mantra of any food business wanting to save on operational costs. Secondly, it mandates that supermarkets larger than 4,500 square feet (about the size of two tennis courts side-by-side) sign an agreement with food rescue organisations to donate surplus food. Whilst this is a good step, the agreements make no reference to the quantity, quality or consistency of food donations.
When the law was first announced, some food rescue charities described it as a poisoned chalice as the increase in donations wasn’t matched by an influx of funding or infrastructure to deal with the surge. So, what can be learnt from this divisive, bold action?
Key takeaways from France’s ban on food waste
- The action garnered plenty of attention and prompted international conversations toward halving food waste as many countries work toward United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 12.3.
- Despite the pressure it put on food rescue charities, the law encouraged supermarkets and these organisations to work together to feed people in need and reduce food waste to landfill.
- The law improved the quality of donated food, as supermarkets are expected to sort produce and donate packaged items 48 hours before their expiry dates.
- Even with limited financial and logistical support, representatives of food rescue organisations and supermarkets observed that donation quantities increased by about 30 percent in 2017.
- Perhaps most importantly, the law helped make reducing food waste the norm among a wider range of food system actors. Tackling food waste needs a systems-wide approach that enables behavioural change, and the law has had the flow-on effect of getting people to change their habits.
Like any bold legislative change, there are always teething issues. But such courageous action has seen France build momentum towards meeting UN SDG 12.3 perhaps faster than any other country.
There’s much we could learn from France’s stance in Australia. Nationally, we throw away 7.3 million tonnes of food every year. Whilst Australia has committed to halving food waste by 2030, there’s plenty of work to be done to get us on track to achieve the goal.
We need urgency around addressing food waste, which has been identified as the third-most impactful way to reverse climate change by scientists from Project Drawdown. We can feed more people, increase economic benefits and preserve threatened ecosystems as we won’t have to cut down more trees to grow more food. Put simply, reducing food waste represents one of the greatest possibilities for commerce and citizens to contribute to reversing global warming whilst saving money.
We’ve learned from France that a long-term, multi-stakeholder approach is required. The law didn’t happen overnight. It evolved from several years of workshops and policy proposals as part of the National Pact Against Food Waste. This painstaking process built a level of consensus that ensured buy-in and commitment and highlighted the importance of working together.
It’s clear that no level of government, no law, no charity, no business or citizen can solve the challenge of reducing food waste alone. But the French experience has shown that a combination of bold legislation, big business and citizen action could move us closer to a solution.
About our guest blogger
Annika Stott is dedicated to fighting food waste. She has spent the past 6 years working in sustainability and waste prevention starting with the UK’s independent advisory body, WRAP, and now as a sustainability strategist for OzHarvest. Annika is passionate about the cause and has extensive knowledge in both food waste education and behavioural change. Understanding the complexities from farm to fork, she is helping to pioneer change. Annika believes in making the world a better place by reconnecting people to the value of food.
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