A post by Lisa Färber, former Student Ambassador on our MSc. in Public Policy and Human Development (MPP) — on the occasion of #FLWDay, 29 September 2021.
The average weight of a pony is 300 kg – and that is roughly equivalent to the amount of edible food wasted every second in Germany alone, totalling around 18 million tons per year. Living in Germany, people have the privilege of buying food products whenever they want from all over the world, and often more than they need. The dark side of this wealth is the tremendous amount of food waste occurring due to “best before” dates, consumer demands, high expectations on freshness and quality standards, overproduction, miscalculations and the cancelling of orders.
Food waste occurs all along the supply chain: agricultural production, processing, supermarkets, and private households. Some 2.5 million tons of food is wasted every year in supermarkets alone. By signing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Germany has committed to achieving Goal #12 Responsible Consumption and Production and Goal #2 Zero Hunger. To meet its commitments, Germany therefore has to reduce its food waste by 6 million tons per year by 2030.
How can Germany meet its commitments, and what concrete actions have to be taken? People mostly are not aware of this problem and, although the government and other stakeholders are willing to incentivise responsible consumer behaviours, the government seems unable to resolve this issue alone. As a result, people are taking matters into their own hands, developing new ideas and trying to influence politics.
Define: Dumpster diving
Being aware which challenges have to be overcome and directly targeting food waste, various movements like food sharing, slow food organisations and dumpster diving are calling for new regulations on food waste and laws to legalise the act of dumpster diving. Dumpster diving, also known as “containering”, “dumpstering” or “skip dipping”, mainly aims to achieve a reduction of food waste to save food by retrieving edible food items from supermarket bins. So far, the dumpster divers movement has no organisational headquarters and operates mainly via social media to pursue the values of sustainability. It consists of individuals or groups that “rescue” edible food from commercial bins, especially late at night. Apart from being an action resulting from poverty, dumpster divers criticise excess consumption and oppose the current food system. Those involved mention as motivations factors including: saving money, contributing to the common good and taking a stand against the market economy. They also want to raise awareness about food waste and advocate sustainable consumption.
The main issue is that, according to the German Penal Code §123, §242, §244, and §303, in Germany dumpster diving is considered illegal. Fearing bad press, the act of containering itself is not very often reported, or courts drop cases because of pettiness. However, if found guilty, hours of community service or financial penalties have been the most severe punishments imposed. In summer 2020, for instance, two students were found guilty of dumpster diving saving edible food from containers and together received a fine of 2,400 Euros and 40 days of community service.
Although dumpster divers’ actions infringe German law, they draw attention to food waste by saving edible food by lobbying in public, establishing and mobilising coalitions with other groups, and the formulation of immediate demands on the government. Besides, they have started a petition which as of 20 September 2020, had been signed by 165,308 citizens (Krüger, n.d.). It aims at a) the legal ban on food waste, b) the decriminalisation of dumpster diving, c) specifically the German supermarket Edeka should stick to its commitments of sustainability (ibid.). With the condemnation of the two students, the movement gained more attention in the press and wihin civil society and increased awareness on the governmental level.
Define: Government (in)action
So why has the government not taken appropriate measures to save edible food? To answer this question, we have to look at the governmental structure. Germany is a Federal Parliamentary Republic. The legislative power lies in the parliament (Bundestag) and the regional states’ representative body (Bundesrat). Thus, parliament can take measures and set regulations to tackle food waste by changing current law. As a result, discussion and voting on proposals from individual parties and committees will occur in parliament. Moreover, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (FMFA) is responsible for the comprehensive treatment of issues in the food and agricultural sector and sustainable food supply.
Even if German parties agree on modifying food waste and dumpster diving regulations, the federal government has not yet adopted a proposal and not taken any measures to reduce food waste specifically to decriminalise dumpster diving and regulate food waste occurring at supermarkets and retailers. With the increasing awareness and societal attention created by the dumpster diving movement and the latest condemnation of the two students, political parties have submitted proposals to legalise dumpster diving and provide food waste solutions. On 17 September 2020, request #19/0345 of the German left party Die Linken was addressed to the Bundestag. It was referred to the Committee on Legal Affairs and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Food and Nutrition which now has to process with verifying and evaluating the request.
So, what next? Now it is the government’s turn to successfully discuss dumpster diving and find regulations and laws to reduce food waste. In Germany, the donation or transfer of food-to-food sharing organisations and food banks remain in a legal grey area and uncertainty regarding liability. Therefore, the legislation should consider legal changes to make food donations easier for supermarkets. Decisions should be taken all along the supply chain to reduce food waste, including at the retailer and consumer stages. And we as consumers should ask ourselves: do we really need kiwis and apples from New Zealand? Do we have to throw away food which is still edible even if it passes the best before date?
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
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