Food Waste Inspiration: The French Make a Bold Proposal

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This blog has been co-authored by Marie Mourad, PhD researcher at Sciences Po, Paris.

You have to hand it to the French. They can make just about anything sound exotic - even food waste. Also known as "gaspillage alimentaire", food waste sounds better in French and its future looks a whole lot better too due to some bold policy moves across the pond.

Photo by Yann Deva.

In April, national policy makers in France released a comprehensive policy proposal to prevent food waste and keep unavoidable food waste out of the landfill. Under the proposed policies,

  • Supermarkets would have a legal obligation to donate extra food to non-profit organizations that ask for it.
  • To foster transparency, large corporations would be required to include data on food waste in Corporate Social Responsibility statements.
  • Businesses generating large quantities of food and other organic waste would be directed to follow a hierarchy of alternatives to landfilling, directing waste to its highest and best use. That means use as animal feed, industrial applications, anaerobic digestion or composting, with landfills being the option of last resort.
  • Following the United Kingdom's example, France would create a dedicated national agency with an annual budget equivalent to $33-43 million to better measure and manage food waste. The agency would work collaboratively with a wide variety of stakeholders and support innovation at the national and local levels.
  • A wide range of proposed regulatory measures would clarify expiration dates on grocery products, establish parameters around the rejection of food shipments from suppliers by retailers, encourage waste reduction in government food programs and institutions, encourage gleaning of unharvested crops on farms, and even offer "clemency" to dumpster-divers, among other strategies.
  • Education and public awareness are also a priority, including learning opportunities for children about food production and food waste prevention.

If enacted, such policies could set a high bar for national food waste policy, rivaling the ambitious and successful initiatives enacted over the past decade by the United Kingdom. Given the French goal of cutting food waste in half by 2025, this new proposal rightly recognizes the need to tackle both over-production and over-consumption in the French food system.

Here in the US, we don't have a comprehensive set of federal policies on food waste reduction. Fortunately, things are beginning to change. Late this summer, the US government, with leadership from the EPA, will announce first-ever national food waste reduction targets. In sync with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals process, the targets will lay out national food waste reduction goals through the year 2030.

At NRDC, we are hopeful that the US effort will establish ambitious goals that challenge not only the federal government but the private sector and eaters alike to get serious about not letting our food go to waste. The French example is worth learning from as 15-year goals for the United States begin to gel.

For a country known for its panache in the kitchen, it's not a surprise that the French would take bold steps to keep their food on the plate and out of the trash. When it comes to setting food waste targets in the US, we hope that American policymakers will feel similarly inspired.