A wilted lettuce and some brown bananas. Perhaps the insignificant loot that the Greifswald police found in Salome K.’s backpack will one day be ready for the museum collection of the German Historical House. “Because of this food, Germans will finally be in court in 2022,” read the sign. Dumpster diving is illegal in the country.
Because if Justice Minister Marco Buschmann and Agriculture Minister Cem Özdemir (Greens) from the neoliberal Free Democrats (FDP) have their way, as long as there is no trespassing or property damage, scooping up edible food from supermarket bins will soon go unpunished . “Anyone who took food out of the trash should not be prosecuted further for this,” Özdemir said.
Federal ministers backed the Hamburg state’s proposal for an amendment to the so-called “Procedural Guidelines for Penal and Administrative Fines”.
Food trade rejects minister’s initiative
While many of the German students who had to save their bucks – bin diving to fill their sometimes yawning empty refrigerators – were celebrating the move, Christian Böttcher, a spokesman for the Federal Association of the German Food Trade Association, was less enthusiastic .
“We do not think that action is necessary from a legal point of view,” he told DW. Even now, prosecutors can drop such lawsuits on the grounds of frivolity when it comes to freely accessible trash cans that are neither locked nor located in a fenced area. “Therefore, the regulation proposed by the two ministers is unnecessary.”
But paradoxically, Böttcher’s main concern is the same as that of the bin-divers (mainly young people): Food waste levels in Germany are mind-bogglingly high — 11 million tons a year.
However, the food industry believes it has been unfairly attacked because it is only responsible for 7% of the losses.
“This initiative does nothing to reduce food waste,” Böttcher said.
According to the UN’s Food Waste Index 2021, Germany ranks among the top in Europe for private household food waste; only China, India, the US and Japan throw away more food.
The United Nations reports that 931 million tons worldwide end up in the trash. At the same time, more than 800 million people on the planet are malnourished and hungry.
The German government has set itself the goal of halving total food waste by 2030 — in part to ensure that more products end up in the country’s 960 food banks.
“We lock the bins or fence them off to minimize the risk from the start, because food extracted from the rubbish can be a health hazard.”
The Biggest Problem: Responsibility
A classic example is product recalls. For example, if a manufacturer discovers that food has been contaminated with plastic debris during production, it immediately notifies retailers.
However, because it was too expensive to send the goods back, they ended up in the trash straight from the warehouse. This is another reason why Böttcher opposes the legalization of dumpster diving. The Federal Association of the German Food Trade (BDL) fears being held accountable for inedible food taken from containers.
But Rolf Sommer has his own ideas about how to solve the liability issue. WWF’s Head of Agriculture and Land Use Change said:
“If you can’t show the food receipt, you can’t hold the company responsible for actions that could harm you. Whoever takes the discarded food is already responsible for themselves, because there is no contract in any sense between the two parties.” Many retailers also want to resell their expired items, but they could get themselves sued. “
In Italy, there are financial incentives, including tax breaks, if companies stop throwing away food under the so-called “Good Samaritan law”.
Under this law, companies and initiatives are also shielded from liability in the absence of gross negligence or intent to harm.
But resolving legal issues and legalizing dumpster diving is just the beginning for Sommer. Of course, every morsel of food saved is a victory, he said. However, the problem has not been solved directly at its root:
“All companies in the supply chain must have an obligation to reduce food waste. Governments must require all commercial operators to reduce food waste by setting binding targets, starting with the agricultural sector. In the long run, bin diving needs to be outdated .”
This article was originally written in German.
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