Italy Passed Law to Send Unsold Food to Charities Instead of Dumpsters

Massive reactions across different countries have greeted the Initiative.

Italy passed a law in August of 2016 with the goal of reducing food waste by one million tons each year. The bill received tremendous support in Italy’s Senate, with 181 Senators voting for it. Only two Senators opposed the bill, while 16 abstained from the vote. The law encourages Italian businesses to give food to charities by relaxing donation regulations.

Food waste costs Italy $13.4 billion per year and could represent as much as 1% of the country’s gross national product (GDP). But this issue extends much further than Italy. According to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about one-third of food worldwide gets thrown out or lost. This amounts to 1.3 billion tons of food waste. In Europe, the numbers are even higher, with 40% of food going to waste. Italy alone throws out 5.1 million tons of food per year.

Businesses Give Food to Charities

The new law encourages businesses like restaurants and grocery stores to give food to charities rather than throwing it out. This bill relaxes previous requirements and procedures for donating food.

For instance, Italian businesses used to have to worry about violating health and safety laws by donating food just after its sell-by date. Now, businesses won’t be penalized for this and can donate food that is still edible. The procedures for giving away food were also quite complicated before this law passed. But businesses can now fill out one form each month to record the food they donate. And farmers can give their unsold produce to charities at no extra cost.

Incentives, Not Penalties

Italy’s approach to reducing food waste differs greatly from a law passed by France with the same goal. Italian businesses are incentivized with cuts to their waste taxes. The more food they give away, the less tax they pay. (1)

On the other hand, French supermarkets are now required to sign contracts with charities to give unsold food away. If they fail to do this, they face having to pay a fine. Supporters of Italy’s food waste law are praising the country’s approach of rewarding businesses that do the right thing rather than punishing those that don’t. (1, 3)

Doggy Bags – A Cultural Phenomenon

A surprising, yet simple, way that Italy is cutting down on wasted food is by encouraging the use of “doggy bags” to take home food from restaurants. This practice, although common in many other countries, is rare in Italy. It can be seen as improper to request to take home uneaten food.

The Italians are rebranding doggy bags by renaming them “family bags”. Their hope is that this will make their use more attractive and even give the practice a feeling of being a principled and wholesome thing to do.

World-Renowned Chef Fighting Food Waste

Massimo Bottura is the owner and chef of Osteria Francescana, a three-Michelin-star restaurant in Modena, Italy. He is one of the most famous chefs in the world, and he is taking on the issue of food waste.

After rallying chefs to save millions of pounds of Parmigiano Reggiano at risk of being lost because of an earthquake, Bottura began to look deeply into food waste. He started the non-profit organization Food for Soul, a series of community kitchens in London, Paris, Milan, and Rio de Janeiro. The staff at the community kitchens, which are called Refettorios, cook meals from foodthat would have otherwise been thrown away. (4)

Bottura sees Food for Soul’s Refettorios as both a way to reduce food waste and as a social initiative. Both people who are food insecure and other community members are invited to partake in the meals. “Serving a proper meal in a beautiful setting can rebuild people’s dignity. Spending time with other people over a relaxed dinner can restore fragile souls,” he says.

Through laws like the one Italy has passed and organizations like Bottura’s, we can avoid throwing away food and get it to those who need it most.


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