Throughout the world, food waste accounts for a significant percentage of carbon emissions. From the production, packaging, and decomposition, food and food waste are important to consider amid efforts to combat climate change. In recent years, legislation in France and South Korea have sought to address the matter of food waste in different ways. French legislation passed in 2016 seeks to address the matter by eliminating food waste from grocery stores. Grocery stores serve as the focal point of this effort as they have typically been major sites of waste. Meanwhile, South Korean laws aim to recycle household food waste through a ban on discarding food waste into landfills. Such efforts, which have been found to significantly reduce food waste in the respective regions, offer good models for the rest of the world. And while major US cities such as San Francisco and New York City have attempted to implement their own programs to target food waste, there is currently no national legislation in the United States which strongly targets food waste. As the United States, which wastes a third of its food, is the largest producer of food waste in the world, considering recent food waste legislation in France and South Korea can offer insight on the ways in which the US can tackle its struggles with food waste.
In 2016, the French government introduced a law aimed at reducing food waste across the nation. In a unanimous decision, the French parliament agreed to issue fines to grocery stores that throw away edible food. According to the law, edible food must either be donated to local charities or used as animal feed. Those markets in violation of this legislation run the risk of facing financial penalties. This legislation seeks to tackle food waste at the ‘consumption stage,’ which is the stage at which wealthier nations such as France typically waste much of their food. Further, the successes of this legislation, which is the first of its kind to set punitive damages for food waste, has rendered France a leader of global food sustainability.
South Korea, meanwhile, has taken a different approach to food waste. Beginning in the late 1990s, the South Korean government began to organize efforts to recycle and decrease food waste. South Korean households are charged for the amount of food waste that they produce a month, and are banned from discarding food waste into landfills. South Koreans are required to separate food waste from other forms of garbage that will ultimately end up in landfills. Since 2012, adoption of the Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) system has led to the proliferation of high-technology trash bins which accept food waste. When parting with their food waste at such depositories, South Koreans are required to scan identification cards which keep track of the amount of food waste that they produce. This stock of food waste is then turned into animal feed or biogas, the latter of which provides a good source of electricity for the power plants which recycle such waste. Thus, this legislation seeks to both recycle food waste, by diverting it from decaying and emitting greenhouse gases in landfills, and also encourage South Koreans to decrease their food waste. And much like the successes of French legislation, this South Korean law has led to decreases in food waste across the nation.
Furthermore, in spite of the lack of comprehensive national legislation, many American cities have still been increasingly involved in attempts to reduce food waste. For example, San Francisco has been a forerunner in food composting. The city passed legislation for such a program in 1996. By 2000, San Francisco was able to meet the California-wide goal of diverting half of its waste from landfills Then, in 2009, San Francisco established a mandatory program which requires residents and businesses to compost food waste. Even tourists to the city are required to separate their trash between recycle, landfill, and compost bins. This food composting program has succeeded in decreasing food waste, and also has allowed for conversion of food waste into productive composting materials which provide nutrients to the soil. Similarly, beginning under the Bloomberg administration in 2013, New York City began its own attempts to divert food waste from landfills. NYC implemented a program for residential organic collection, thus providing an increasing number of city residents with a convenient way to recycle food and yard waste.
Food waste is an important issue amid the widening concern for climate change. Countries such as France and South Korea, and American cities such as San Francisco and NYC have taken meaningful strides in reducing the food waste produced by their residents. Each has tackled the matter in a slightly different way and while these efforts have proven successful, no state has yet effectively addressed food waste at all levels of the food system. Still, these varying efforts offer good models for policymakers around the globe. Given the amount of food waste produced by the United States, it is particularly important that American policymakers at the national level consider and possibly adopt such models. Such is especially the case in light of the implications that food waste has on the environment.