Italy is set to become the second European country to pass legislation that encourages supermarkets and restaurants to stop throwing away unsold food. Food wastage is expensive, costing the Italian economy around €12 billion a year; and bad for the environment, as landfilled food waste uses land, water and fuel resources unnecessarily, and contributes to the production of greenhouse gasses. The bill on food waste passed its final reading in the lower house on Monday 16 May 2016, and is currently being discussed by the Senate. It contains 17 articles, including changes to food safety regulations that will enable products that are past their 'best before' dates to be given to charities.
A network of LIFE projects influenced this change in food legislation. The network was organised by the LOWaste project (LIFE10 ENV/IT/000373), which had found legislative obstacles standing in the way of achieving its objective of closing waste cycles. To enable the reuse and recycling necessary to build circular economies within the food industry and other sectors, the project decided that legislation needed to be modified. Therefore, it established the network, which targeted food legislation by producing an appeal and lobbying for change.
“We created through the LIFE projects a working group, and thanks to the experience of all the beneficiaries in this field, we produced proposals that were put to Parliament and the Ministry of Environment,” says Alessandra Vaccari of the LOWaste project. This appeal was presented to the Ministry in February 2014. “It identified the critical limits of the regulations on waste, and concrete proposals to overcome them,” she adds.
Anna Brescianini, project manager of NOW (LIFE10 ENV/IT/000404), says they experienced similar problems of existing legislation making it difficult to create new uses and markets for waste. “After February 2014, and for a whole year, the projects consulted with PINPAS (the Italian National Plan for the Prevention of Food Waste),” she says. “We contributed by working with Members of Parliament and by answering their questionnaire. We also invited some Members of Parliament to visit our project so that we could explain our experience and the most optimal solutions to adopt. After this visit, in October 2015, we reviewed the first legislative proposal before it was sent to Senate and also sent our comments in the second reading.”
The initial group of LIFE projects assembled by the LOWaste team to lobby the Ministry for Environment also included ECO Courts (LIFE10 ENV/IT/000404), IDENTIS WEEE (LIFE10 ENV/IT/000404), No Waste (LIFE10 ENV/IT/000307), Prisca (LIFE11 ENV/IT/000277), Promise (LIFE08 INF/IT/000312), and WASTE-LESS IN CHIANTI (LIFE09 ENV/IT/000068). Other LIFE projects subsequently also signed the appeal.
The LIFE project network is also influencing regional policy in Italy. Organic waste prevention was inserted in the regional plan 2014-2017 of the Lombardy region, for example, to incentivise and support organisations to recover food waste.
France was the first EU country to pass legislation aimed at stopping supermarkets from throwing away unsold though still edible food, with the introduction of fines. In contrast, the Italian bill adopts a reward-based approach, with companies that give food to charities able to claim tax cuts on waste disposal. The bill also reduces the administrative burden on supermarkets, enabling food donation forms to be filled in less frequently and retrospectively. It will therefore reduce costs associated with waste disposal, combat environmentally-damaging waste production, and recover greater amounts of otherwise landfilled food to give to those in need (e.g. through food banks).
The LIFE projects’ food waste reduction goals are also been furthered by a government-run campaign to promote the use of ‘doggy bags’ in restaurants in Italy, so that left-over food can be consumed at home rather than becoming yet more food waste.