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France Was the First Country to Ban Supermarkets From Throwing Away Unused Food — and the World Is Taking Notice

France is a culinary leader — both at the table and, more recently, in the trash can.

In February 2016, France became the first country in the world to prohibit supermarkets from throwing away unused food through unanimously passed legislation.

Now, supermarkets of a certain size must donate unused food or face a fine. Other policies require schools to teach students about food sustainability, companies to report food waste statistics in environmental reports, and restaurants to make take-out bags available.

These laws "make it the norm to reduce waste," says Marie Mourad, a PhD student in sociology at Sciences Po in Paris who has authored several reports on French food waste. "France is not the country that wastes the least food, but they have become the most proactive because they want to be the exemplary country in Europe." 

France's efforts have not gone unnoticed. The country earned top ranking in the 2017 Food Sustainability Index, a survey of 25 countries across Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and the Americas conducted by the Economist and Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition Foundation (BCFN).

The people of France wasted 234 pounds of food per person annually, according to the BCFN report, which is drastically better than France's international counterparts, compared to about 430 pounds per capita thrown away year in the United States.

Food waste, or unused, edible food, is a global issue. Each year, some 1.3 billion metric tons, or one-third of all the food produced, is thrown away, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. Recovering just 25 percent of that wasted food could feed 870 million hungry people — effectively ending world hunger.

Not only does food waste fritter away valuable resources like water, arable land, and money, but it also fills up landfills, which emit methane. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest greenhouse gas emitter behind the United States and China.

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