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Envious of France – less food waste


By: Frances Lamberts

“Why don’t we have these, too?”was a seemingly envy-tinged question by the author of a recent article in the Zeit newspaper. He described many provisions, long established in France, to help towns in that country cut down on municipal-waste volume.

Regarding food waste, the author cited the odd situation in Germany of supermarkets being allowed to dispose of food items in dumpsters while – as in “dumpster diving” – someone taking such waste food, often quite usable, is legally a thief under the country’s criminal code.

As documented in recent research, much edible food from US supermarkets also ends up being wasted. A 2021 estimate suggests the waste food generated by American retailers to be at 10.5 million tons annually, a third going to the landfill. At the same time, the nonprofit Feeding-America organization quotes a US Department of Agriculture figure of 38 million people, including 12 million children, being food insecure and often going hungry.

By law since 2016, the envious German journalist wrote, French supermarkets must donate unsold edible food to food pantries or similar efforts in their communities, or divert it to local agriculture services for animal feed or composting. In 2018, the law’s reach was extended to restaurants and some other sectors of the economy. And at a young age in school, French children learn about squandered resources

in growing and transporting food items, methane pollution generated in the landfill, and other problems related to food waste.

A report from the Center for Biological Diversity, “Slow Road to Zero,” documents some of these, such as 25 percent of all fresh water consumed in the US, and 13

percent of carbon emissions resulting from food production, while 40 percent of that “goes uneaten.” It also indicates, though, that some national supermarkets, including local ones, are earnestly trying to address the waste issue. Partially, solutions involve data collection toward lower-purchasing volumes to void over- stocking, making unsold food available to local hunger-relief agencies, or contractually having it go to composting or other, farm-based services.

The Kroger store near the university confirmed such arrangements toward a zero-waste goal, which this chain hopes to reach by 2025. Two other local stores – Walmart and Aldi – are among six national supermarkets receiving an A or B grade on the Center-for-Biological-Diversity’s “Report Card.”

It also acknowledges France as the pioneer in excess food laws. Replicating these in US federal law would seem a great benefit to us as well.