In a historic move, France has become the first country to ban supermarkets from throwing out perfectly edible food. The law comes after a grassroots effort by French citizens that included petitions and protests.
Passed unanimously by the French senate on Wednesday, the law will forbid French grocery stores from throwing out food as it approaches its "best before" date. The law will apply to large supermarkets only, but the penalties for violating its standards are high: up to $84,000 in fines or two years in prison.
"Most importantly, because supermarkets will be obliged to sign a donation deal with charities, we'll be able to increase the quality and diversity of food we get and distribute," Jacques Bailet, head of Banques Alimentaires, a network of French food banks, told The Guardian. "In terms of nutritional balance, we currently have a deficit of meat and a lack of fruit and vegetables. This will hopefully allow us to push for those products."
On top of those new regulations, supermarkets will also be barred from intentionally spoiling food in trash cans to deter homeless and poor people from eating it. Fusion reported that supermarkets had been pouring bleach on top of food they were throwing out to keep away "families, students, unemployed and homeless people" who would forage in the garbage cans to feed themselves. The stores claimed they were doing it to prevent people from getting food poisoning.
This news is especially significant in America, where, according to Harvard Public Media's "Food Waste in America" report:
Food waste is the single-largest source of waste in municipal landfills. An incredible 35 million tons of food were thrown away in 2012, according to the EPA. As it decomposes in landfills, the waste releases methane and other greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Meanwhile, 1 in 6 Americans struggles with hunger and the world wonders how to address the challenge of feeding 9 billion people by 2050.
Late night host John Oliver also made waves last year when he reported on the incredibly destructive practice of throwing away perfectly good food; not just for the environment, but for the 50 million people in America who are food insecure.