In January, the French government enacted a food waste law which aims to prohibit supermarkets from throwing away or destroying surplus food. The leftover food will instead be donated to charity, or else they could face fines of up to €75,000 (£53,000).
But would this law would work in the UK, and is food waste is a national problem or a local solution?
According to the initiative Love Food Hate Waste, almost 50% of the total amount of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes. We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink was still fit for consumption. Introducing such a law in the UK would not tackle the personal food waste problem we have.
In recent times supermarkets have attempted to take on the initiative on food waste and have pointed to the positive steps they have already made without government intervention. For example, supermarkets ASDA and Waitrose have recently announced a wonky veg range, selling cut priced misshapen products that usually would have not satisfied their own cosmetic standards. Others stores such as Marks & Spencer, have been teaming up with local charitable organisations to re-distribute excess unsold food.
Local charities have been initiating connections with smaller local shops to take on surplus stock, using it to feed the homeless, refugees and elderly people.
While this initiative may seem like a positive step towards reducing food waste and recycling perfectly edible food, charities and supermarkets have pointed to the potential pitfalls. Charities have raised concerns that they could end up being burdened with a surplus of food and be treated as dumping grounds.
In addition, such a law could be damaging to local producers in the UK as supermarkets could under-order to avoid the risk of wastage. This would just cause more waste at the production level and would not address other important issues such as the high cosmetic specifications supermarkets impose on producers who are then forced to overproduce to guarantee enough suitable produce.
So instead of focusing on supermarkets, should we instead be focusing on alternative methods for reducing waste, such as providing more education and resources for the general public, and put more efforts in to bolstering local initiatives?
Supermarket chains only generate an estimated 5% of food waste across the European Union and as little as 3% in the UK. The majority of waste comes from consumers themselves. The good news is that food waste has reduced by 21%, over 1 million tonnes between 2007 and 2012. This amount if food would fill 23 million wheelie bins!
But what can we do to further reduce this figure?
One line of thought is that more efforts should be made to offer support and education about food waste at the local level to encourage awareness, as opposed to focusing on laws for which the motivation is possibly only to show that governments are ‘doing something’ on food waste rather than actually instigating real progress.
Awareness about waste is rising as people understand the personal financial cost of not managing the food they buy. Some councils have instigated food waste collections to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill. A joint effort from us as consumers and the supermarkets should lower the figures even more. Should we care that some of our veg is a bit wonky or our fruit is not all a uniform size and shape? We think not.
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