Should NZ copy France and force supermarkets in giving unsold food to the needy?

Should NZ copy France and force supermarkets in giving unsold food to the needy?

When the French government announced a ban on supermarkets throwing away unsold food, New Zealand was one of a number of countries to throw in their two cents worth on the matter.

NZ Listener food columnist Lauraine Jacobs weighed in on the topic when she tweeted: “C’mon NZ. It’s not rocket science. France becomes first to force all supermarkets to give unsold food to needy.”

Under the new law, supermarkets in France with a footprint of 400 square metres or more must donate food no longer fit for sale to charities or for animal feed. Yet research from France’s Ministry of Ecology shows that shops are responsible for just over a tenth of the 7.1 billion tonnes of food wasted by the nation each year – 11% in fact, of which 5% comes from supermarkets.

And consumers? The average French national generates 67% of those 7.1 billion tonnes, which equates to about 20-30kg of food wasted per person each year. Even more horrifying than that is how around 7kg of those 20-30kgs is food that’s still wrapped. Assuming our situation is about the same as France, shouldn’t we first be looking to unpack our own waste behaviours before we start dumping the blame on supermarkets?

While there’s been no specific research into the amount of food New Zealand supermarkets waste, The Waste Management Institute of New Zealand (WasteMINZ) has done plenty to lift the lid on amount of food binned by households. 

WasteMINZ estimates that the average family buys and chucks out some $563 worth of unused food each year, which amounts to 122,547 tonnes of food and costs the nation about $872 million per year. 

As a consumer, I know there’s more I could do to reduce my food footprint and make better, smarter choices when it comes to filling my fridge, my freezer and my face. I imagine I’m not alone in this realisation.

WasteMINZ’s brilliant Love Food, Hate Waste (LFHW) campaign is one way New Zealand is working to tackle the issue of domestic food waste. When it was first launched, the campaign enlisted councils across New Zealand to investigate food waste levels in their area to raise local awareness of the issue. Back-to-basic guidelines were then rolled out to the nation with the aim of re-educating people on how to better manage food. The LFHW website offers some great tips on things like how to turn leftovers into something delicious, how store food correctly, how to shop sensibly and plan meals.

Simple steps like keeping stock of what’s in your fridge and pantry and writing a shopping list are other effective ways to avoid buying unnecessary groceries and save money. By their very nature, people who grow their own food or at least source produce from those who do are more conscious of the time and effort that goes into getting food from the ground to the table and more motivated to avoid waste out of respect for that process.

Another simple way to reduce waste is buying food on a subscription basis. This way the growers have advance demand forecasts so they only need to grow what they know they will sell and customers receive food in quantities that are portioned to specific meal plans.

Our attitude to food is the key to unlocking the issue of food waste. No longer taking ‘ugly’ or ‘imperfect’ produce off the shelf is one way supermarkets can help to change the way people think about food and help them value it beyond simply how it looks.

The information is out there, we just need to get creative and mindful about the way we treat food in our everyday lives. Only then will we truly get a grip on the problem of food waste.