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How is food waste regulated in Europe?

How is food waste regulated in Europe?
Copyright REUTERS
Copyright REUTERS
By Cristina Abellan Matamoros
Published on
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After two German students launched a petition to change food waste regulations in Germany, Euronews has looked at food waste regulations across the European Union.


Two German female students have started an online petition to curb food waste in Germany.

They want to change German law so supermarkets can donate food past their sell-by date to food banks and allow people to “dumpster-dive” — the act of looking for food in large commercial or residential dumpsters — without being penalised.

These two students were fined €225 last week for fetching food out of a supermarket dumpster near Munich, Germany. They will also have to serve eight hours of community service on top of their fine.

The district court of Fürstenfeldbruck found the two women guilty of a joint “theft of discarded food”.

In Germany, food that has been disposed of remains a supermarket’s property until garbage collectors take it away. So anyone who fetches food from supermarkets’ dumpsters are considered to be committing theft according to German law.

Concrete amendments to the law were already proposed to the Bundestag in the form of petition 74584, which asks for dumpster diving to be no longer punishable.

What are some of the other laws across Europe?


In 2016, France passed a law that bans supermarkets from throwing away edible food by obliging them to pair up with a food waste NGO that can redistribute food that would have otherwise be thrown away. Stores that don’t comply with the law can be fined €3,750 for each infraction. The law also clarifies whether a food product is actually inedibly passed their sell-by date or not.

However, only food stores that are bigger than 400 m2 are concerned. Additionally, the law does not establish the quantity that has to be donated, so a supermarket can donate 1% of its food and still comply with the law, noted a report by European Court of Auditors (ECA).

The French ministry of agriculture said in a 2018 statement that 10 million tonnes of food are wasted in France annually.


In 2018, the UK government announced a scheme to reduce food waste from retailers and food manufacturers.

The scheme was developed in collaboration with business and charities and was due to be launched in 2019/20, said a government statement.

The government collaborated with non-profit organisation, Wrap, and the food charity IGD on a roadmap to curb food waste, which includes ways businesses can reduce waste at every stage of their supply chain.

The voluntary programme is part of the UK's effort to meet the UN's sustainable development goals, which warns about the economic losses that food waste ensues.

The roadmap aims for British food retailers to be active players in the fight against food waste by September 2019 and have them set targets to cut waste by 2026.

The government statement said that food waste in the UK totalled 10.2 million tonnes per year.


Italy passed a law against food waste in 2016, aimed at cutting one million tonnes of the estimated five million wasted every year. The law is meant to make it easier for food retailers to donate food to charities and food banks. Businesses won't face sanctions if they give away food past its sell-by date and will get tax cuts proportionate to the amount of food they give away.

Farmers are also able to donate food they don't sell.

Additional measures to curb food waste include a research project to find innovative packaging methods to increase the shelf life of products and a public information campaign to reduce food waste.


The same year, Italy's top court ruled that stealing small amounts of food was not a crime.


In 2017, the Spanish government started looking at ways to reduce food waste and increase donations to food charities from food retailers. However, a law has not been passed so far.

According to government figures, 7.7 million tonnes of food is wasted every year.

In the Europea Union

A European Commission statement from 2016 said that around 88 million tonnes of food is wasted annually, which has an associated cost estimated at 143 billion euros. The Commission said it was fighting food waste at the European level by elaborating a common methodology to measure waste, creating a platform to define measures against waste, facilitate cooperation, and share best practices, and improve the way food products are marked, in particular, the "best before sell date".

The same report by the ECA criticised the Commission's efforts to tackle food waste, describing their work as “intermittent and fragmented”.

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