William & Mary Environmental Law and Policy Review


Fighting food waste fights hunger. It also cleans the planet. Currently, one third of all the food produced in the world—1.3 billion tons of edible food—goes to waste every year. Each ton of food wasted produces 3.8 tons of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. In America, wasted food produces over 20% of methane gas emissions annually. Recovering all this wasted food could feed the food insecure, could clean the environment, and could even create new market opportunities within the food industry. If food industry businesses find ways to resell or recover the cost of what they currently throw away, this recovery improves their efficiency. But what serves as the best legislative or legal framework to eliminate food waste? Or is the fight against food waste more a private matter? This Note will evaluate and compare both the American and the French approaches to the complex worldwide problem of food waste, or gaspillage alimentaire.

In the United States, the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act’s intention is to encourage businesses and individuals to donate unused food. This Act reduces liability for those businesses and individuals who donate unwanted food to charities and food banks. In France, the lawmakers have taken a much more aggressive approach to the problem of food waste. They passed a law mandating the donation of unsold food from supermarkets to non-profit organizations. If the supermarket fits certain criteria, it must then contract with local charities to donate unwanted food to avoid a monetary penalty.

Although the U.S. law seems insufficient and ineffective to tackle the problem of food waste in America, the French law goes too far. Penalties should be a last resort to a problem, especially when other solutions could prove more effective. Adequate policies to reduce food waste include the use of technology and tax incentives, the promotion of local agriculture, Community Supported Agriculture (“CSA”), urban farming, and public advertising campaigns. A government approach that promotes private sector initiatives can feed our hungry and reduce the carbon emissions caused by the food we throw away.

This Note will (1) lay out and evaluate the current status of American law regarding food waste, (2) explain and evaluate the current French law and the 2016 ban on supermarket food waste, (3) compare and contrast the French and the American approach to food waste, and (4) propose multipronged legal and policy-based solutions that find a more effective middle ground between the two approaches.