Instead of Pouring Bleach on Unsold Food, These Grocers Have to Give It to Charity

COP21 seems to have breathed new life into an anti-waste law in France.
Consumers buy nectarines and cherries in an Auchan supermarket in a Faches-Thumesnil shopping center in northern France. (Photo: Philippe Huguen/Getty Images)
Dec 11, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

With the eyes of the world turned on Paris for the ongoing COP21 climate talks, a plan to end food waste in France’s grocery stores is back on track. On Wednesday, the French parliament reintroduced—and passed—legislation that would require supermarkets to give unsold items that are nearing their sell-by date to charity or turn them into animal feed.

“It’s extremely rare for a law to be passed so quickly and with unanimous support,” French politician Arash Derambarsh told The Guardian.

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The legislation was initially passed in May, but it was rejected in August by the French constitutional court because it had been tacked on to another bill incorrectly. Thanks to the swift action of the parliament this week, the law will go into effect on Jan. 13.

Once it's in effect, the law will make it illegal for stores to destroy edible food items they’re unable to sell. It’s common for groceries in France to soak trashed food in bleach or douse items with water to keep people from Dumpster diving.

Instead, according to the new law, grocers will be required to partner with charities that will collect and distribute unsold food to people in need. Retailers that continue to destroy items could be fined about $80,000 or face up to two years in jail.

Supporters of the legislation decried the negative effects of food waste on the environment. “Throwing out a loaf of bread is like throwing out a bathtub full of water,” said parliament member Jean-Pierre Decool on Thursday, reported The Local. “Throwing out a kilogram of beef is equivalent to wasting 15,000 liters of water.”

The law also mandates education about food waste in French schools. “Schoolchildren need to know milk doesn’t come from cartons but cows’ udders, that some vegetables are picked only in certain seasons. They must learn to appreciate the quality of products, as the higher the quality of the meal, the less is left on the plate,” Guillaume Garot, a member of parliament who helped draft the legislation, told The Telegraph on Thursday.

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About 7.1 million tons of food are wasted in France every year, but that’s small potatoes compared with what’s happening in the United States. Roughly 40 percent of the food in the U.S. goes uneaten every year—45 billion tons of it, according to the USDA. Despite all the trashed fruits, veggies, and other items, data from Feeding America indicates that one in seven Americans struggles to get enough to eat.

Globally, the situation isn’t much better: One in nine people—7.3 billion men, women, and children—were chronically hungry between 2012 and 2014, according to the United Nations. The U.N. hopes to end global hunger by 2030, in part by chopping food waste in half. Given that ambitious goal, it makes sense that Derambarsh plans to work on convincing European Union officials to make destroying unsold food illegal across the entire EU.