Food Waste Around the World, Episode 40: France
Food Waste Around the World is a Food Circle project to provide information and raise awareness about food waste. The project is designed as a series of interviews with students from different countries to understand how this issue is tackled and perceived around the world. This is made possible thanks to Sapient, the mother company of Food Circle, which every year offers internships to students from all around the globe, creating a uniquely multicultural environment.
Today we speak with Eric, who is from France!
"I’ve noticed in France that we’re all making an effort. If we continue, slowly but surely, we will achieve success against food waste!"
But first, some context
Before we get into the interview, it's important to look at some facts about France's goals and performance.
What sustainable targets have France set?
According to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 12, France is committed to these targets:
By 2030, halve per capita global food waste at the retail and consumer levels and reduce food losses along production and supply chains, including post-harvest losses.
By 2030, substantially reduce waste generation through prevention, reduction, recycling, and reuse.
By 2030, ensure that people everywhere have the relevant information and awareness for sustainable development and lifestyles in harmony with nature.
What about its performance?
Impact Economist compares 78 different countries and their performance in tackling food waste. I will present 3 of the measured performance indicators for France. (Koehring et al. 2021)
1) Food loss and waste:
France is 16th. It's placement in the top quartile reflects the countries' efforts that it has been making. Food loss is well understood and efforts are clearly being taken to address the problem. By setting food waste targets, and starting to measure food waste more systematically. Strong policy responses are being put in place to tackle the problem! France is especially successful at tackling food loss.
2) Food Sustainability index (FSI)
France is ranked 12th. Defined by Impact Economist, The Food Sustainability index measures: "food waste targets, private institutions, formal land rights, public financing and research institutions for agricultural innovation, the prevalence of undernourishment, and the affordability of healthy and sustainable diets".
The index aims to capture the bigger picture and not just to look at the figures of food waste and food loss, but to judge the whole food system as a whole. Judging by the FSI of France, its food system is moving towards their food waste targets.
3) Sustainable agriculture:
France is ranked 33rd.
It seems like this is a problem bigger than just France alone. "Sustainable agriculture [is] not something that is being prioritised by even the top performing countries in their international climate commitments".
Regardless, this is the area that France can improve. If sustainable agriculture and its unique solutions interest you, I recommend you read our article about it.
In the same spirit of Food Waste Around the World, France could learn how to improve it's sustainable agriculture performance by looking at the success and ingenuity of other nations. It is suggested that to become a "top performer" for sustainable agriculture, France must develop "robust policy responses to tackle key issues around sustainable water management "and must encourage private sector investment in sustainable agriculture.
“Some low-to-lower-middle-income countries, such as Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria and Zimbabwe
are setting examples on how to better integrate climate action with agricultural activities.” Perhaps we could learn a thing or two from them!
Shockingly, just 22 countries have a dedicated food waste strategy (Koehring et al. 2021). So if you learn something from this article, please share it with others :).
Now that I’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk to our guest!
“Today, I am interviewing Eric. We are going to be talking about the situation of food waste in France. Can you briefly introduce yourself?”
My name is Eric and I’m 21 years old. I was born in France and grew up here. I’m currently studying a masters programme at the University of Burgundy. Studying, a wide course that covers lots of subjects, there's a lot to learn and I enjoy it.
It also gives me plenty of different directions to go after university. Since I'm skilled in English and Russian but also business in the food industry, economics, marketing, communication and more.
"Interesting. Speaking of food waste, what have you noticed about the state of the food waste problem in France?”
I can say that I have seen a lot of improvement. Our government makes a lot of effort to tackling the problem, that’s for sure. So much progress has happened while I’ve been growing up.
I see things changing in all areas: There are more organizations and legislation to reduce food waste, there are more initiatives too. As more time passes, I see more people starting to care about it.
For example in my small town, we have seen communal compost bins setup on my street. It’s very common for people to put their leftover vegetables and expired food in there. I like it because it helps clear my conscience when food goes bad or rotten, it helps return those nutrients to the soil.
To fund my driving lessons a couple years ago I got a job as a trash collector. Every day, I was seeing a shocking amount of food waste in people’s bins. My colleagues and I often discussed this; people were throwing away perfectly good food. Food that could still be eaten. We now have laws that make you responsible to either donate leftover food to food banks or to compost it. Throwing away food waste has been changed by the French government.
I've watched this change happen and I just hope that supermarkets and other grocery stores are respecting this.
“Do you know of any significant organisations that are tackling food waste?”
A really popular app that I know of is “Too good to go”. I personally prefer the French organisation PHENIX, it has a similar model. A notification tells you when a seller has unsold food and you can then go and pick this up for an affordable price. I like that it can increase profit for the seller but also creates an opportunity for individuals.
There’s a strong incentive for students especially. Once you have your own apartment and bills and have a lot to pay out for, you will take any opportunity to save money on your food, with the added benefit of reducing food waste.
“What’s the most frustrating thing to you about food waste?”
For me it’s the quantity that is wasted in France. I’ve read that it’s almost 10 million tonnes being wasted each year. That's impressive. When you think that 1 car weighs about 1 ton. Visualising 10 million cars worth of food waste makes it seem more real. Moreover, this equates to a wasted 16 billion euros!
“Does France have any unique ideas could be shared with other countries? What could we can learn from the French?”
The European Union is the big driving force for change in Europe. So maybe countries outside could look at the EUs environmental policies and legislation.
To create more change, I think that organisations should be collaborating to send a strong message to the European parliament and the rest of the world. Organisations like “Too Good To Go” and “Phenix” could gather together and send a strong message. I think they would be stronger together. They could make more noise and get more attention and then hopefully make more changes.
“Is there anything else you would like to add? What would you recommend people do differently?”
Parents should teach their kids not to waste food. Spreading these values from one generation down to the next is a really important thing.
Another thing is that schools could develop a better policy for dealing with food waste. Or some standard policies could be implemented nationwide, if not already.
When I was much younger and I used to eat in the school cafeteria, I noticed something when choosing the food that I wanted to eat. Some children were bigger, some weren't very hungry, but the food served was the same for everyone. And it was very normal to throw away our leftovers. Fortunately, while I was there I saw this change and it became common in my school to tell the chefs how much you want and how much you think you will eat. I think that this should be common everywhere.