The Spanish Cabinet on Monday approved the country’s first Law for the Prevention of Food Losses and Waste as a means of putting a stop to the more than 1 billion kilos/litres of food that go to waste every year in Spain.
Among its standout clauses is that all restaurant, café and bar customers will have the right to take their food with them, except in all-you-can-eat establishments such as buffets.
Any leftovers, sobras in Spanish, will have to be placed in recyclable packaging if the customer requests it, and at no additional cost to them, with fines of €2,000 for establishments that fail to do this.
Spain isn’t a country with a longstanding tradition of leftover restaurant food going in doggy bags, perhaps as a combination of it not being part of the culture and portion sizes tending to be smaller than in other countries.
That’s not to say that many restaurants in Spain don’t already pack up any leftovers if asked by diners, although more often than not it’s placed in non-recyclable styrofoam packaging.
Other measures included in the law, which still needs parliamentary approval to come into force in the coming months, are those aimed at stamping out waste in at other stages of the food chain.
Every business or body involved in selling, producing or distributing food will be required to develop a prevention plan to avoid waste, with penalties of between €2,000 to €60,000 for “serious” non-compliance, and up to €500,000 for those engaging in “very serious” food waste.
A smaller fine of €2,000, which under the new rules can be handed out to small food retailers and restaurant owners as well as bigger players, will be given to those failing to donate unsold products that are close to expiry to food banks.
Companies will have to stipulate a route map so that in every scenario food has an end destination where it ends up eaten.
If food isn’t fit for human consumption, then there should be a plan in place which ensures it gets used, when applicable, as animal feed, as a by-product in another industry or to obtain compost or biofuels.
This same draft law also includes the clause that forces stores to sell fruit and vegetables considered “ugly, imperfect or unsightly”.
The priority according to Agriculture, Fishing and Food Minister Luis Planas should always be ensuring that food is consumed, as “there’s hunger and malnutrition around the world and this issue hits everyone’s conscience”.
For Planas, the problems caused to the global food chain as a result of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine suggest that the “possibility of a food crisis” in Spain is not so far-fetched.
According to 2020 figures from Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture, on average each person in Spain wastes 31 kilos/litres of food a year.
At least 40 percent of the food waste occurs in shops and at home whereas another 20 percent happens at other stages of the food chain.
There will be no sanctions for individuals at home but they will be targeted through educational campaigns on food waste.
Other countries such as Italy and France have already adopted laws in recent years targeting food waste.
In line with objectives laid out by the United Nations, the European Union has committed to reducing by half food waste by both companies and consumers by 2030.