Italy has passed a new law that aims to cut at least one-fifth of the estimated five million metric tons of food wasted in the country every year. Officials estimate that this waste costs businesses and residents more than €12 billion ($13.4 billion USD) and may account for more than 1% of the country's GDP.
One of the bill's main provisions is to make food donation simpler. Businesses will now be able to record their donations on a monthly basis and won't be subject to penalties for giving away food past its sell-by date. They will also receive tax credits based on how much food they donate.
The country's agricultural ministry will spend €1 million ($1.1 million USD) to research new packaging methods that help reduce transportation spoilage and prolong the shelf life of products.
With this law, Italy now joins France as one of the only countries in the world with a national food waste law. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates one-third of food is wasted in the world and that number is closer to 40% in Europe. According to the FAO, the amount of wasted food in Europe could feed 200 million people.
The reforms to donation rules for Italy's supply chain, including a provision that allows farmers to give produce to charities at no cost, are a key step. Though in some ways the government's plans for public education are equally important. In addition to an information campaign, Italy is also launching a national effort to normalize "family bags" — known in the U.S. as doggy bags or leftovers. This is considered a foreign concept in Italian culture and will help reduce waste on the consumer level.
As the U.S. looks to reduce food waste 50% by 2030, this type of incentive-based approach is an interesting model to watch. Due to a patchwork of state laws around food donation — which rely on an equally confusing system of expiration dates — it's still difficult for businesses to get extra food to the organizations that need it. Food waste reduction advocates have pointed to date label reform, along with increased public education efforts, as the first steps toward reaching this 2030 goal.