Food waste is a global problem not limited to any country in particular, and it is estimated that around half the fruits and vegetables produced annually go to waste. In China alone, 35 million tons of food is wasted every year, with half of that occurring at retail and other consumer-facing places like restaurants. This week, news surfaced that the country has developed its own particular way of combatting that waste via new law that fines customers for leaving food on their plates at restaurants.
Xi Jinping, a politician and the paramount leader of China, recently submitted a law to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress that aims to reduce food waste in restaurants. The law would allow restaurants to charge customers who order too much food and leave leftovers on their plates (However, customers would still be able to take home leftovers).
It is currently unclear how much a restaurant could charge a customer. On the other hand, restaurants could be charged up to 10,000 yuan (roughly $1,500 USD) for offering deals that encourage customers to order excessive food. A third part of the law would impose the largest fee of 100,000 yuan (15,000 USD) for T.V. ads or shows and radio or online commercials that promote overeating (like “all you can eat” buffets, for example).
Xi Jinping has been targeting the issues of food waste for months now, with Operation Empty Plate launching this past summer. This operation banned the streaming of online videos of famous Chinese mukbangers, who are online performers that eat excessive amounts of food in one sitting. It also encouraged customers to order one less plate than the number of people in their party at family-style restaurant meals.
The most recent law submitted by Xi Jinping is still a draft, but it is deemed likely to pass. There are a handful of other countries using laws to prevent food waste. For example, in 2016, France banned supermarkets from throwing out edible food, and those who break this law can be charged €3,750 ($4,500 USD) per infraction. A law passed in Italy in 2016 made it easier for food retailers to donate to food banks, even if the food was past its “best by” date. Five states in the U.S. have passed laws that helped keep food waste out of landfills by improving compost infrastructure and rescuing edible waste for consumption.
China’s potential new law cracks down harder than its original Operation Empty Plate, and the food waste fines are a new concept for the country. With our supersized everything, massive restaurant serving sizes, and the beloved all-you-can-eat buffets, it makes me wonder if the U.S. would ever be able to adopt any type of food waste laws countrywide. Food waste laws being implemented by countries are a recent development in the past few years, and it will be fascinating to see if other countries begin adopting laws in the upcoming years.