When I was in undergrad, I would occasionally visit the coffee shop that was nestled in between the Engineering building and the Physics building. On one of my visits, towards the end of the day, I noticed that the staff put leftover donuts and pastries in a clear plastic bag. Intrigued by this, I asked what they were going to do with the unsold food. They said that they were going to throw it away, as was customary each day for the cafe. Being on a budget and loving donuts, I asked “If you’re getting rid of them, then can I just have one?” The answer was an emphatic NO. They had to throw them away. If I wanted one, I would have to retrieve it from the dumpster. I was taken aback by the answer and the fact that a company was had a mandate to throw something away rather than giving it away. Until this day, this practice still bothers me. Companies must realize that throwing the food away is a disservice to society in many ways. All of these items that are disposed of in the food industry nearing or past their “Best before date” are still edible and could be donated. According to the USDA dates on food “can also help the purchaser to know the time limit to purchase or use the product at its best quality. It is not a safety date.”
Currently, there are some laws in the United States that encourage food donations, preventing food past it’s “consume by date” from being thrown out. There is Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act, Internal Revenue Code 170(e)(3), and The U.S. Federal Food Donation Act of 2008. However, these are not enough to prevent the waste of 30-40% of food supply in the US. When you consider that the waste equates to 20 lbs per person per month, it makes you think of all the energy, resources, water, that go into producing these products, only to end up in a landfill. I propose that the United States follow initiatives and laws that have recently been passed or proposed in other countries. They are as follows:
- French Law – France has become the first country in the world to ban supermarkets form throwing away food by forcing them to donate the food to charities and food banks. Each supermarket will need to sign a donation contract or face a hefty penalty or 2 years in jail.
- UK Food Waste Reduction Bill – UK parliament is currently reviewing this bill that provides incentives to implement and encourage observance of the food waste reduction , including reduction of waste by manufacturers and distributors by no less than 30% by 2025 and to formalize agreements similar to that of French laws.
I am aware that implementing a law that makes food waste illegal could be challenging but the current incentives/laws in place are not efficiently addressing or solving the problem of healthy food being wasted. Learning from other countries about the societal benefits of passing a food waste/food donation law would be a win-win situation by reducing hunger while reducing waste.