Italian LIFE projects influence national food waste legislation to boost circular economy

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 it is bad for the environment, as landfilled food waste uses land, water and fuel resources unnecessarily and it contributes to the production of greenhouse gasses.  

The Italian bill on food waste passed its final reading in the lower house on 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 have been influential in making this change to Italian food legislation. The network was formed by the LOWaste project (LIFE10 ENV/IT/000373), which had found some legislative obstacles standing in the way of its objective to close waste cycles. To allow the reuse and recycling necessary to build circular economies within the food industry and other sectors, the project found that legislation needed to be modified. Therefore, it established a network that targeted food legislation by producing an appeal and lobbying for change.

“We created 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,” he adds.

Anna Brescianini, project manager of NOW (LIFE10 ENV/IT/000404) , says they encountered similar problems whereby existing legislation was 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 Italian initiative is timely as the European Commission’s recently adopted package on the circular economy Closing the loop - An EU action plan for the Circular Economy (COM(2015) 614 final) classifies food waste as a priority waste streams and one that faces specific challenges due to the specificities of its value-chain.  It notes that, “food waste is an increasing concern in Europe. The production, distribution and storage of food use natural resources and generate environmental impacts. Discarding food that is still edible increases these impacts, and causes financial loss for consumers and the economy.”

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 signed the appeal.

The LIFE project network is also influencing regional policy in Italy. For example, organic waste prevention was inserted in Lombardy’s regional plan 2014-2017 to incentivise and support organisations that 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 being 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 become yet more food waste.