4 ways France is leading the food waste agenda

Posted by Liv Lemos / 24-Jul-2019

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Food waste is a huge and costly issue for the world. In France, the problem is not different than elsewhere.

Every year 10 million tons of food is either lost or wasted in the country, costing the French 16 billion euros per year.

The negative impact on the environment is also shocking. In France, food waste emits 15.3 million tonnes of CO2, which represents 3% of the country’s total CO2 emission.

These figures raise concern, but the good news is that France is currently taking action to reduce its food waste.

The French government has created new laws in recent years, regulations and campaigns to change people's behaviours and encourage food waste reduction. And also, the private sector has stepped to the plate and is transforming its operations to become less wasteful.

  • Waste management enforcement

Five years ago, the French government started showing a strong commitment to tackling the issue of food waste. In 2012, they launched a new law to reduce the amount of organic waste sent to landfill.

Since then, the French Ministry of Ecology, Energy and Sustainable Development has required from the private sector to recycle their organic waste if they produce more than 120 tons of it per year. However, this amount has been lowered gradually to include not just supermarkets and agrifood firms, but also companies in the hospitality and food service sector. Failure to comply with the legislation could result in fines of up to €75,0000.

Now, recycling is mandatory for all businesses, including those in the hospitality and foodservice industry, that produce at least 10 tonnes of organic waste per year. It represents roughly 33 kilos per day, which for a restaurant serving 150 meals a day is the equivalent of 50% of all their eateries.  

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  • Ban on supermarkets wasting food  

Last year, France became the first country in the world to ban supermarkets from throwing away or destroying unsold food. Instead, it forces them to donate surplus food to charities and food banks. According to the French regulation, large supermarkets are no longer allowed to throw away good quality food approaching its “best-before” date.

France's ban on surplus food being thrown away by supermarkets requires any store larger than 4,305 square feet to sign donation contracts with not-for-profit organizations. Failure to do so could result in fines of up to €75,000, or two years of imprisonment. It makes it easier and faster for the retail industry to give their surplus produce directly to charities and food banks.

Furthermore, all French supermarkets are also banned from destroying food as a way to prevent so-called “dumpster divers” or “freegans” from foraging in garbage bins.

The food waste law, which was adopted unanimously at the  French senate, is the result of strong campaigns led by municipal councillor Arash Derambarsh. He has been designated as the person in charge of persuading French MPs to adopt the regulation after a petition collected more than 200,000 signatures in just four months.  

  • Changing consumers’ behaviours

Household waste disposal services in France are run by local authorities, and there are different requirements and regulation for each type of waste. Paris launched a biowaste recycling initiative to encourage households to recycle their food waste instead of trashing it.

Now,  the French capital authority is distributing waste sorting kits containing a seven-litre recycling box and a guide. The initiative will enable 120,000 Paris residents to put their food waste into a biowaste recycling bin.

The waste will then be collected and transformed into fertilisers or upgraded in mechanization plants to convert it into heat and electricity or biofuel for buses. The goal is for the entire capital to have these biowaste collections by 2020.

 It might be still too soon to evaluate how effective these regulation and campaigns have been.

However, it is interesting to see that the French government is taking action to reduce food waste. Should other countries start creating laws to encourage food waste management at a national level? What do you think? We’d love to hear your opinion in the comments below.

  • The private sector is also on board 

A multi-partner food waste focus group was formed last year with the support of Paris la Défense - Europe's largest purpose-built business district that is located in Paris. The business centre launched a food waste reduction program and five of its companies accepted the challenge and signed the pledge to cut food waste.

As part of the programme, a diagnosis of food waste in all five company was concluded, followed by a test period to see if the waste was going to drop. The assessment, together with the project’s learnings, resulted in a practical guide to help other business how to change their production process to cut food waste. Download the guide here:

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Photo credit: Brkati Krokodil via Stocksy  

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