France is no stranger to setting trends the rest of the world eagerly follows (hello, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent). And its latest buzz-worthy idea is one we can totally get behind: eliminating supermarket food waste.
France has already been on our awesome list this year for its green initiatives, which extend all the way to making the Eiffel Tower more eco-friendly. But this new legislation brings our admiration of the French to a whole new level, as food waste is an issue that affects everyone in a huge way (check out our series on the issue!).
What is This Law?
In May, legislators in France unanimously passed a measure that will ban supermarkets and other large food stores from throwing away any unsold food that is approaching its expiration date.
Instead, these stores must donate this food to charity. Food that is not safe for humans to eat must still be donated and used for animal feed or agricultural purposes.
If stores don’t follow these rules, they will be fined up to €75,000—and big-time offenders could see their execs thrown in jail.
The law is the brainchild of a suburban politician named Arash Derambarsh, who started collecting unused food from his local supermarket to distribute to the hungry. After realizing the power in this simple model, he used the power of the Internet to springboard his idea to a country-wide phenomenon. He created a Change.org petition, which received more than 200,000 signatures and even garnered celebrity support.
“I have been insulted and attacked and accused of being naive and idealistic, but I became a local councilor because I wanted to help people,” explained Derambarsh. “Perhaps it is naive to be concerned about other human beings, but I know what it is like to be hungry.”
Why Is Food Waste Bad?
Derambarsh is just one of the 795 million people in the world who have lived—or are currently living—without access to adequate food. But despite that shocking statistic, one-third of the food produced worldwide is wasted through the food production and consumption system. To put that in perspective, that means around $1 trillion worth of food produced each year is never consumed.
Food waste also has a surprisingly negative impact on the environment. According to the National Resource Defense Council, food rotting in landfills is responsible for almost 25 percent of methane emissions in the United States.
So, to recap: cutting down on food waste would not only help millions of people receive much-needed meals, it would also drastically cut down our carbon footprint.
Could This Law Work in the U.S.?
Derambarsh certainly hopes so! He is planning to create another petition this summer to raise support for an international law that would have similar provisions to the French legislation. He is even working with the ONE Campaign to present his ideas to the United Nations later this year.
Of course, what works for one country will not necessarily work elsewhere. Though the United States certainly struggles with the issue (in 2010, there was 43 billion pounds of waste from food stores alone in the U.S.), we’re certainly a bigger country than France. Elise Golan, the director for sustainable development at the United States Department of Agriculture, cautions the French plan would not be a good fit for America.
“The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult,” she explained to The Atlantic. “If you’re having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that’s not good for anybody.”
Still, even if this exact law is best suited to stay in France, it is setting a fantastic example for the rest of the world, offering a real solution to a global problem. It also shows how one smart idea can make a real difference for millions of people, which is a pretty inspiring thought.
Colleen Hagerty is a freelance multimedia journalist. She has spanned the globe with her camera in hand to share unknown, interesting, and inspiring stories. Some of her recent segments have taken her from Thailand, where she spent a night on an uninhabited island, to Australia, where she covered a rare disease affecting Tasmanian Devils. She started her career at NY1, reporting on major stories including Hurricane Sandy and local elections. You can follow her on Twitter @colleenhagerty.