Italy's New Laws Aim to Cut Food Waste by 1 Million Tons Per Year

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©. K Martinko - A restaurant in Rome

It's an ambitious yet promising plan that focuses on getting rid of roadblocks and red tape, making it easier for people to donate food to those in need.

The Italian government has thrown its support behind new laws aimed at reducing food waste throughout the country. The bill passed on August 2, backed by 181 senators. (Two opposed it and one abstained from the vote.) The government’s goal is to make it easier for retailers and consumers to prevent food waste by creating easier avenues for donation and incentives for doing so, and to prioritize the redistribution of excess food to those who really need it. It also hopes to reduce food waste by 1 million tons annually, since Italy currently wastes around 5.1 million tons of food each year.

ThinkProgress explains why these updated laws will benefit the country financially:

“Italian ministers estimate that the amount of food wasted throughout the country is costing Italian businesses and households more than 12 billion euros ($13.3 billion USD) a year, which equals about 1 percent of the country’s gross domestic product — no small amount, when one considers that the country currently has a public debt of 135 percent.”

What will the new set of laws do?

It will create incentives for donors. The goal is to simplify the bureaucratic process usually required for food donations to be made to charities, and to get rid of roadblocks that discourage people from donating. Up until now, all restaurants and supermarkets in Italy have had to issue a declaration five days prior to making a donation; instead, the new law will allow businesses simply to issue a statement of consumption at the end of each month.

The laws will allow people to donate food that has passed its expiry date, with the understanding that expiry dates are almost always arbitrarily assigned by manufacturers and reflect more a fear of liability than actual concern over a food’s safety. Volunteers will be allowed to collect leftover food from fields, with the farmer’s permission, and businesses will receive a reduction on their disposal fees in relation to the amount of food they have donated. Pharmaceuticals can also be donated, as long as they have not passed their expiry date.

One million Euros will be set aside for research into packaging that prevents spoilage in transit and that preserves foods for longer, making them more likely to be used. One survey found that 64 percent of Italians would prefer less packaging in general.

There will also be a huge push to challenge the cultural reluctance to take leftovers home from restaurants. Although the practice is commonplace elsewhere in the world, Italians tend to avoid such requests. A campaign to rebrand ‘doggy bags’ as ‘family bags’ will hopefully make the idea more appealing.

Senator Maria Chiara Gadda, the driving force behind these anti-waste laws, told La Repubblica that responsibility lies in the hands of Italians:

“We have to work through the supply chain, from those who produce to those who gather and donate, but every citizen must also do his or her part. Statistics tell us that 43 percent of waste happens in the consumer’s home.”

Way to go, Italy, for leading the fight against food waste! These comprehensive laws are progressive and will hopefully have a wide reach, both to donors and to recipients in need. Now if only the United States could do the same.