War on waste in bars and supermarkets: a new law will impose fines of up to 150,000 euros for throwing food

Spanish households throw away 1,364 million kilos of food annually, an average of 31 kilos per person, according to 2020 data from the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. The Government wants to stop this waste. With this objective, it approves this Tuesday in the Council of Ministers the bill for the Prevention of Losses and Food Waste before sending it to the Courts and submitting it to parliamentary processing. Among the measures introduced by this law, whose general lines EL PAÍS has had access to, is that of forcing all agents in the food chain to draw up a prevention plan to avoid waste. In addition, it contemplates sanctions for bars, restaurants or supermarkets that do not comply with this rule.

These prevention plans must prioritize the use that is given to food before reaching the landfill. The priority, explains the ministry, should be human consumption through donations to entities such as food banks. The companies will be obliged to sign agreements with the receiving organizations that specify the conditions of collection, storage and transport. The ministry emphasizes the importance of traceability of donated food: it must be possible to know where each food comes from.

If it is not possible to deliver the food for human consumption, said food must be transformed into other products such as juices or jams. The third option is that they serve for animal feed. The last uses that the plan must detail are the production of industrial by-products and recycling to obtain compost or fuel. These requirements will apply to establishments that serve food, from bars to large commercial areas.

The standard includes more measures to avoid waste: companies will have to report annually how much they waste; restaurants must notify consumers that they can take their leftovers; companies have to encourage the sale of products with an expiration date soon…

In October 2021, when the Government approved the preliminary draft of this law, it advanced the sanctions for companies that do not respect this rule, with fines of between 6,001 and 150,000 euros for serious infractions. The causes for incurring in these faults are to prevent the donation of food by contractual stipulation or not to donate surpluses to social initiative entities. In case of recidivism, the fine can reach one million euros.

“It is a law of conviction and not of coercion,” commented last year the Minister of Agriculture, Luis Planas. Ministry sources now insist on the same message: the vocation of this rule is not “sanctioning”, the priority is “prevention”. Planas justified the importance of the law, among other reasons, in that “there are still more than 800 million people who suffer from hunger and 1,600 million with malnutrition problems.” In addition, he stressed that “it is not very smart to throw away all the resources used to produce food, especially when some of them, such as water, soil or energy, are scarce and vital for our survival.” This law tries to meet one of the sustainable development goals of the UN 2030 Agenda: reduce food waste by half per capita world.

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The new law does not anticipate sanctions against people who waste in their homes, where most of the waste is concentrated. For this stratum, the standard focuses on awareness campaigns. A model of good practices will be established “to drastically reduce food waste”, explains the Executive. This action guide will also cover how to waste less in the rest of the chain. “The causes of food waste are related to errors in harvest planning and timing, use of inadequate production and handling practices, poor storage conditions, poor retail techniques and practices of service providers, and inappropriate behavior of consumers”, indicates Agriculture. The forecast of the department of Planas is that the law is approved in January of next year.

The waste, in data

75% of Spanish households say they waste food. This is one of the most forceful conclusions of the latest study carried out by Agriculture on food waste, based on 4,000 surveys in 2020. Of the food that ends up in the garbage, three quarters are unprocessed products, that is, they have not come to be cooked. And among these products, the most common are fruit (32.1%), vegetables (13.6%), bread (4.8%) and milk (4.5%). About half of the survey participants stated that they freeze some of what they cook.

These data reflect only part of the problem of food waste. Household waste accounts for 61% of wasted food, according to a 2019 report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP). The other 39% is divided between food services (26%) and retail trade (13%).

This study calculates a much higher level of waste in Spanish households than the ministry’s survey (77 kilos per household per year, compared to 31 for Agriculture). UNEP figures place Spain very close to the global average (73 kilos). “It is very similar between lower-middle-income countries and high-income countries, which suggests that most countries can improve in this area,” indicates the report, which starts with a devastating figure: “If the loss and food waste were a country, this would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases.”

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