If food waste were its own country it would be the 3rd largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In 2016 France wrote a radical zero-food waste law to change that. So, what can the U.S. learn from this hard stance on organic waste?
Food is sacred in France. It’s rich and flavorful. Meals are luxuriously long occasions. And, wasting is punishable by law with a $4,000- $75,000 fine… if you’re a grocery store. France’s Parliament unanimously passed the Food Waste Bill in 2016, requiring supermarkets to sign contracts with charities to regularly distribute edible food products nearing their expiration date. Instead of going to dumpsters and landfills, boxes of yogurt, bread, pasta, and fresh produce are delivered to the 5,000 churches, NGOs, and other organizations that distribute the food to those in need. According to Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks Banques Alimentaires, it’s resulted in more fresh food products being distributed to charities.
“There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away,” Jacques Bailet, head of Banques Alimentaires.
It’s no secret that massive quantities of edible food are poorly distributed going from farm to landfills. According to the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “One-third of the food produced in the world gets lost or wasted.” That’s about 1.3 billion tons of food wasted. It’s not only a major economic loss, but it’s a loss of resources, a chance to help those in need, and when that food hits landfills it emits 3.3 billion tons of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere. According to Project Draw Down, a research organization that reviews climate solutions, if we reduce food waste by 50% by 2050, 70 gigatons of CO2 emissions would be reduced.
“We simply cannot allow one-third of all the food we produce to go to waste or be lost because of inappropriate practices when 870 million people go hungry every day, “General José Graziano da Silva, FAO Director
According to the U.N Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), “At the retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance.” France’s zero food waste bill, written by Parliament member Guillaume Garot, is groundbreaking in that it aims to fight this. Fresh produce that is close to its expiration date is donated to NGOs and charities to help feed the poor. From a business perspective, this allows stores to save resources that would be spent on trash removal and to reap tax breaks from their donations.
Yet, The European Court of Auditors (ECA) has scrutinized the bill for its loose definitions of ‘food waste’ and ‘edible produce’ and failure to enforce stricter standards to ensure that some supermarkets aren’t unfairly benefiting from the bill. There is also criticism for failing to look into agricultural food waste, which accounts for 32% of food waste, or consumers who account for 19%. According to Parliament member Garot, “We need to widen the actors involved in fighting food waste.” Yet, for now, the groundbreaking bill is a step in the right direction towards a zero food waste future.
“Every morning, more than 2,700 supermarkets send nearly out-of-date food to nearly 80 warehouses around the country, rescuing 46,000 tons a year that would otherwise be thrown away,” Christopher Livesay, Journalist Pulitzer Center.
What food waste solutions has the U.S. adopted? Vermont passed the Universal Recycling Law in 2012, which superseded France’s Food Waste Bill, to ban food scraps from being thrown into the trash by residents and businesses. California has introduced the country’s strictest organic waste recycling laws. Other states like Iowa, Oregon, and Colorado have introduced tax credits to farmers who donate 15% of their produce to food banks or emergency food organizations. Considering that there isn’t a federal or universal bill, but only a handful of states and cities introducing food waste bans and solutions, it’s a small impact.
For now, the food waste solutions offered to us revolve around learning how to recycle organic waste or advocating for better policies:
- There are resources like Vermont’s Department of Environmental Conservation page about how to recycle, compost, and reduce the waste of food scraps and yard clippings.
- Organizations like Feeding America partner with restaurants and grocery stores to recover and redistribute 3.6 billion pounds of food to those experiencing food insecurity.
- And, writing to your local policymakers is always a good way to gain momentum behind the movement to reduce food waste.
America’s chance at reducing the 133 billion pounds of food waste annually, needs more states to adopt better food waste solutions like composting and to encourage the redistribution of food that might otherwise be wasted. If the country as a whole adopts stricter standards about organic waste similar to France, it would put us in a better position to help feed the millions at risk for food insecurity while also reducing the negative impacts like methane gas emissions from food in landfills.