Spain has just approved an ambitious bill to significantly reduce food waste, a severe problem that affects every country and largely remains unsolved. The government hopes to reduce the 1,300 tons of food wasted every year by mandating companies involved in food production and supply to implement a food waste prevention plan.
Over 30 kilograms of food is wasted per person per year in the country, totaling 1.36 million tonnes of food and waste lost each year, at a cost of €250 euros ($260) per resident. Luis Planas, Spain’s Minister of Agriculture, described the legislation as a “pioneering judicial instrument” that will allow the government to tackle inefficiencies in the food chain while reducing the resulting economic, ethical, and environmental costs.
The law will force bars, restaurants, and food stores to have a plan that defines the fate of unused or unsold food, with the priority set on donating food prior to its best-before date. They will also have to encourage the sale of products with an expiration date that is close, marking them with lower prices than those in optimal conditions.
Donation to entities such as food banks is also contemplated by the new law. Companies will have to sign agreements with all recipient organizations, specifying the conditions of collection, storage, and transportation, in addition to showing the traceability of the donated products, and indicating the origin of each food item.
The law proposes penalties ranging between 2,000 and 60,000 euros, forcing companies to report on how much they waste every year. If food can’t be donated or sold, the law asks for it to be destined for animal feed, industrial use, and recycling for compost and fuel. But that would be the last option on the table.
Bars and restaurants will also be required to offer customers leftovers from their meals for free — a practice that isn’t currently common in Spain. The government acknowledged that a lot of food waste happens at home and not at restaurants. However, it will rely only on educational campaigns rather than on fines to change domestic behavior.
A massive problem
Food is lost or wasted along the whole food supply chain: on farms, in processing and manufacture, in shops, in restaurants, in canteens, and at home. The reasons for it to happen to vary and can be specific to each sector — from insufficient shopping and meal planning to stock management problems to low perceived value of food.
In the EU alone, about 88 million tons of food waste are generated annually, with associated costs of over 150 billion euros. The bloc has committed to halving per capita food waste at the retail and consumer level by 2030, while also reducing food losses along the production and supply chain. The problem is extensive to the rest of the world.
A 2021 UN report found that people waste a billion tons of food every year. The food discarded in homes alone is 74 kilograms per person each year on average around the world. This damages efforts to help the billions of people who are hungry and also harms the environment, as food waste accounts for 10% of greenhouse gas emissions.