According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) approximately one-third of all food produced around the world is lost or goes to waste. This statistic is concerning considering the assertion that wasted food has a greater impact on climate change than that of plastic. This is due to the methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, produced by rotting food disposed that is of in landfills. In addition, wasted food requires a plethora of resources during processing, before ever reaching the market. For example, a food product may require water, land, and fertilizer during production, only to be tossed in a trash bin and sent to the landfill once wasted. As a result of these pain points, many governments and international bodies are creating policies, or amending regulation, to address food waste/loss.
Here is a breakdown of what countries around the world are doing to battle food waste/loss:
Germany: The German government, spearheaded by Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt, aims to cut its waste in half by 2030. Schmidt wishes to do away with the best before date (BBD) on food product packaging due to the belief that products are suitable for consumption even after the BBD. Additionally, Germany is considering the use of “smart packaging,” placing electronic chips on products such as yogurt, to allow the consumer to decide whether the product is safe for consumption. The packaging will provide an “indicator” of which will turn from green, to red, to signify the quality of the product’s contents.
United States: There are currently no federally standardized requirements for date-labels within the U.S (other than baby formula). With a lack of uniformity at the federal level, states have implemented their own food laws – further confusing consumers and doing little to curb food waste. In response to inconsistencies at the state level, a bill vying for a federally regulated system has been proposed. The bill establishes a new system for labeling, primarily focusing on supplying consumers with quality date and safety indicators. The bill would allow for manufacturers to use a “best if used by” date to communicate quality, in addition to allowing the sale/donation of food that has moved past the quality date.
France: By law, French supermarkets are prohibited from disposing of, or destroying, unsold food. Such food products must instead be donated to charities, or re-purposed as food for animals. France has already been enforcing a food waste law of which requires companies that produce over 120 tons of organic waste to recycle such waste. Business in the hospitality and food service sector are required to recycle organic waste if they produce more than 10 tons of it per year.
Italy: Similar to the laws introduced in France of which penalizes supermarkets for food waste, Italy has implemented its own laws in regard to how retailers should be handling unsold food. However, instead of penalizing retailers, Italy has amended various tax laws, simplifying the process of donating unsold products to charities. Businesses are now also permitted to give away food that is past its “sell-by” date, but still fit for consumption.
UK: In the UK, there has been a concerted effort to address food waste/loss via policy advancement. The Scottish government, for example, will enforce a ban on biodegradable municipal waste (BMW) on landfill operators starting in January 2021. BMW (also known as household waste) is able to decompose over time, thus encouraging the push to remove such materials from the landfill altogether. Countries like Wales have long had regulation in place to limit BMW. With its Landfill Allowances Scheme Regulations, Wales has significantly reduced the amount of BMW sent to its landfills over the past thirteen years. In England, although no official ban on food waste-to-landfill legislation exists, a plan is in place to launch food waste collections throughout the country by 2023 and to hold producers accountable for the costs of managing their own waste packaging. Some UK companies, like Arla Foods, are taking matters into their own hands by removing “use by” dates on fresh milk, in favor of instead using language like “best before” on its products to reduce confusion and curtail food waste. Tesco PLC, a well-known grocery-chain in the UK, has gone one step further, removing “best before” dates on nearly 70 fresh fruit and vegetable products altogether to reduce the volume of food waste in its stores.
In a proactive attempt to assist in the fight against food waste, governments of countries around the globe are implementing policies/procedures to cut down on food thrown into the trash and ultimately sent to decompose in a landfill. Efforts made to reduce food waste and maintain consumer safety have led to a change in regulation in many countries. Some member states of the European Union (EU) have started by introducing alterations to BBD’s found on packaging. Recall that Germany is doing away with the BBD altogether, and companies within the UK are switching to “use by” dates. Others within the EU (France, Italy) have amended laws pertaining to the handling of unsold food, encouraging donations instead of throwing away such product. With many countries setting deadlines for reducing food waste (i.e. Germany halving waste by 2030), manufacturers would be wise to keep tabs on the various regulations enacted within the countries of which their products are sold.