unsold food at a market

Italian Law: To Send Unsold Food To Charities Instead Of Dumpsters

Food is one of the benchmarks of the ancient and modern Italian culture, and as such, they have it in excess and mouth-watering varieties. The best chefs in the world arguably come from Italy. It’s a wonder that a country so “crazy about food” still has millions of people going hungry, with about 5.1 million people still living in absolute poverty [1].

In 2016, the Italian government passed a bill to encourage supermarkets, malls, grocery stores, and bars to donate excess food to the needy rather than throwing the goods away [2]. The bill passed seamlessly through the lower house of parliament and was welcomed with open arms by the Senate. The idea was not only economically advantageous for the country’s administration, but it was intended to promote good moral ethics, kindness, and national unity amongst the citizens. 

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Before the bill was passed, Italy was spending an average of 13 billion USD annually on waste management [3]. In 2015, the country wasted a cumulative 550 million tons of food. The legislation not only wanted to cut down on revenue allocated to waste management, but also to come to the aid of the poor in the most feasible way possible. 

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Rewards for kindness

Food vendors who donated to the needy would be offered reductions in taxes, which would vary with the number and quantity of donations they made. All food that is donated must not be expired and this will be declared at the time of donation. 

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To help make this work, there will be tax incentives. Without them it would have been a harder sell getting local businesses to fall in line with the new policy, and sooner or later, they’d find a way to bypass it. However, tax is a pain in the neck and every business owner would jump at an opportunity to have it reduced. Italy took a well-aimed shot with this one.  

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We are making it more convenient for companies to donate than to waste. We currently recover 550 million tons of excess food each year but we want to arrive at one billion in 2016,” said Maurizio Martina, ex-Minister of Agricultural, Food and Forestry policies (2014-2017) to Independent [4]

Italy became the second European country to pass a bill to curb food waste. The French government passed a bill in 2016 that would prevent any supermarkets occupying more than 400 square meters of space from throwing away excess food [5].  They would either donate to charities or incur fines. Italy went the “win-win for everyone” route, and rather than imposing a fine for wastage, they implemented rewards for donating. 

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Unsold food, not exactly food waste

Some people may have had some trouble coming to terms with the idea of giving “food waste” to the poor. It would initially sound derogatory and demeaning, but it’s not that bad. By Supermarket standards, food waste is either expired or items still in good condition but with some minor cosmetic imperfections. It’s the latter that needs to be salvaged. For instance:  

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  • If a fruit has a scratch on the peel, it gets tossed. 
  • If a can of soup has a chink in the tin, it gets tossed. 
  • A box of cereal with a rip in the carton goes in the trash- tossed. 
  • Oddly-shaped carrots have no hope of sitting on the shelves – tossed 
  • If the label damaged, it’s not fit for sale… tossed.  

I think you get the point. So the majority of the so-called ‘unsellable’ foods are going to waste is in perfect conditions and fit for consumption.

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It’s important for food vendors to take stock of excess food items before their expiry dates. Declaration of the items and onward delivery to the charities would save a lot of lives and improve the standards of living of millions of poor Italians.

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Arash Derambarsh, French politician and City councilor of Courbevoie, France, is a known advocate for food waste management. With the help of his group, he proposed the act of Parliament that placed a ban on food waste by supermarkets in his country. He’s been working non-stop to propose a bill that would prevent food waste in all member countries of the European Union.

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To put it painful simply, as he told the Independent:

“The problem is simple – we have food going to waste and poor people who are going hungry.”

  1. Poverty in Italy at worst for 12 years, new government vows action’ Reuters Gavin Jones. Published June 26, 2018
  2. Italy passes law to send unsold food to charities instead of dumpsters‘ Global Citizen Joe McCarthy. Published March 15, 2016
  3. Industry revenue of »waste collection, treatment and disposal activities« in Italy from 2011 to 2023 (in billion U.S. Dollars). Statista F. Zendehrouhkermani. Published August 28, 2020
  4. Italy to change law to make all supermarkets give unsold food to needy‘ Independent Matt Payton. Published March 15, 2016
  5. France Becomes First Country to Ban Supermarket Food Waste’ Global Citizen Joe McCarthy. Published February 5, 2015.
Thomas Nelson
Freelance Writer
Thomas is an environmental advocate currently residing in the Pacific Northwest. In his spare time, he enjoys experiencing the outdoors, raising chickens and ducks, and reading about current environmental issues. Despite slight colorblindness, his favorite color is green.
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