France Bans Stores from Trashing Unsold Food

17 March, 2016

France has become the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing away unsold food.

Legislators passed the law in February. The law requires supermarkets to donate unsold food to charities and food banks.

If supermarkets do not obey the law, they face a $4,000 fine.

The new law is part of France's efforts to rethink consumption practices.

Each year, France throws away about 7 million tons of food. That is one-fifth of the amount of food bought each year. Along with individual consumers, restaurants and stores add to the food waste.

Other European countries are also making efforts to reduce food waste. In Denmark, a new "waste" supermarket has opened, where customers can buy surplus - or leftover - food for cheaper prices.

Arash Derambarsh is a municipal councilor in a Paris suburb. He started a petition for parliament to adopt the supermarket food waste law.

"The situation is very simple," he said. "On the one hand, we have supermarkets that throw away kilos of unsold food every day. On the other, faced with this absurdity, we have millions of poor people in France.

Derambarsh published a book called Manifesto Against Waste. In the book, he wrote about time as a poor student barely able to pay for rent. "I was hungry and ashamed of admitting it. I wanted to turn it into a positive experience so others would not end up in this situation."

Derambarsh is now campaigning for the European Union to adopt similar supermarket waste laws. He is also urging the United States and other countries to adopt such measures, too.

Reactions of charities

Yet the reaction among some charities and supermarkets in France shows how complex the issue of food waste really is.

Some people welcomed the new law. Louise Saint-Germain is president of a small non-governmental organization called, in English, A Hand Stretched Out For Tomorrow. She said the increase in donation in will allow her group to "feed more people and provide a more diversified food basket."

But others are worried the law will lead to more donations than they can handle. Aline Chassagnot manages a Salvation Army store.

"We simply don't have the technical and logistical ability to distribute more food to more people. And we're not the only ones," she said.

Chassagnot said France needs to consider larger issues related to consumption and sharing.

"Yes, there's waste and there are enough poor people around," she said. "But really taking into account a person's needs and dignity might mean another way of thinking that's not so simple."

Supermarket practices

Many large supermarkets in France argue that the law doesn't really change much. The director of one Carrefour supermarket in western Paris says her store has been donating unsold food to charities for years.

Nothing is wasted, the director said. In the kitchen, chefs put day-old bread products into syrup, then pour almond paste on them, turning them into new desserts. Rotten raspberries are picked out of unsold tubs, and the good ones are reused in tarts.

And, food that is damaged or past its shelf life is turned into biofuel, the director added. The biofuel helps power supermarket trucks.

But other French stores reportedly put bleach onto unsold food. That chemical makes the food inedible.

I'm Ashley Thompson.

Lisa Bryant reported this story for VOANews. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English.

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Words in This Story

consumption - n. the use of something

absurdity - n. the state of being unreasonable or foolish

ashamed - adj. feeling shame or guilt

logistical - adj. relating to organization and planning

desserts - n. sweet food eaten after the main part of a meal

tub -n. a wide container used to hold something

tart - n. an open pie that usually has a sweet filling

shelf life - n. the length of time that food may be stored and still be good to eat

bleach - n. a strong chemical that is used to make something clean or white