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Behavior Change
France Voting to Forbid Major Supermarkets from Throwing Away Unsold Food

In a landmark move last week, France's parliament voted to forbid major supermarkets from destroying unsold food, encouraging them to donate to charities or to farms for animal feed, as part of a national campaign against food waste; an estimated that up to 66 pounds of food are wasted per person each year. The French government announced in 2012 that it wants to reduce food waste by 50 percent by 2025.

The amendment, unanimously approved Thursday by the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament, is part of a larger environmental bill. The overall bill will go to a vote Tuesday in the Assembly, then goes to the Senate, and is likely to pass in both houses.

The bill would require large supermarket chains to donate goods no longer fit for sale (including those in damaged packaging that remain edible, or that are past a recommended sell-by date but are are still safe to eat); those with a footprint of 4,305 sq ft or more must sign contracts with charities by July 2016 or face penalties including fines of up to €75,000 or two years in jail, according to the Guardian. Foods past a firm expiration date would go to farms for compost or animal feed.

Socialist lawmaker Guillaume Garon, who sponsored the bill, argued that limiting waste is not only good for the environment but also about social justice for those going hungry. "This concerns our compatriots who suffer daily, which is intolerable in the 21st century," he told the legislature.

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In recent years, French media have highlighted how those in need often forage in supermarket bins at night to feed themselves, many of them able to subsist on edible products that had been thrown out just as their best-before dates approached. But some supermarkets began dousing wasted food in bleach to prevent potential food-poisoning, and others stored thrown-away food in locked warehouses for collection by garbage trucks, to stop scavengers.

Meanwhile, French supermarket chain Intermarché took a different approach, launching its enormously successful “Inglorious Fruit and Vegetables” campaign last year in an effort to reduce the amount of produce it wasted by teaching shoppers that imperfect fruits and veggies are just as tasty and nutritious.

France isn’t the only country taking strides to tackle the staggering amount of food wasted throughout its value chain, and definitely not the only place where it’s a problem: An estimated 40 percent of food is wasted in the US, 850,000 tons of edible food goes to waste in the UK, and 89 million tonnes in Europe per year. All have seen a range of potential solutions emerge in the past year at the industry, enterprise and municipal levels:

  • Following the success of Intermarché’s campaign, UK grocery giant Asda launched a “Wonky Veg” campaign in January, along with a lower-priced line of cosmetically challenged produce that is “beautiful on the inside.”
  • On October 1, Massachusetts enacted the country’s largest ban on commercial food waste, which applies to all institutions producing more than one ton of food waste per week, including roughly 1,700 public institutions including schools, hospitals, supermarkets and food producers. Much like France’s plan, the legislation stipulates that the unsellable food is either donated, shipped to an anaerobic digestion (AD) facility or distributed to farmers to use as animal feed.
  • Waste-reduction organization WRAP has proposed that adding one day to product sell-by dates could prevent roughly 250,000 tons of food waste each year in the UK by giving consumers longer to eat the food that they buy. WRAP also recently partnered with Iglo Group, Europe’s largest frozen food company, to launch iFreeze, a campaign highlighting that European households waste an average of €260 of food every year and that increased use of both freezing and frozen food can help to reduce waste and save money.
  • And a number of new apps, business models and packaging innovations are setting about eliminating the problem throughout Europe.