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Paris initiatives lay waste to binning food

AFP | With 26 kilos of waste each, Parisians bin three times more food than the rest of the French.

For all their green delusions of grandeur, Parisians still bin triple the food their compatriots do. But that volume is trending distinctly downward. With the Festival Zero Waste underway in Paris, FRANCE 24 looks at efforts to junk waste for good.

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“Don’t play with food!” was the soundtrack to our childhood dinners. So how about starting with not throwing all that food away? “In Paris, 59,000 tons of foodstuffs still packaged and edible wind up in the garbage every year,” Antoinette Guhl, who leads Paris City Hall’s circular economy efforts, tells FRANCE 24. “With 26 kilos per person, Parisians even throw away food three times more than the rest of the French.”

For the past two years however, city residents have made green-tinged efforts to bin that habit. From restaurants that swoop to the rescue of "ugly" vegetables, to apps that tout low-cost meals assembled from eateries’ closing-time leftovers, initiatives abound.

“The 587 kilos of domestic waste per resident in 2000 – a high – were trimmed to 488 kilos in 2016,” says Guhl, who underscores Parisians’ growing interest in reducing waste. The theme even won pride of place in Paris’s participatory budget, a scheme that involves locals in defining financing priorities for the city.

“People are interested in the battle against food waste because we can all act, everyone can do something at their own level and it’s motivating,” explains Flore Berlingen, who heads Zero Waste France. The group, launched in California in the 1980s, is putting on the second edition of its eponymous festival in Paris “to allow professionals and individuals to discover the ‘zero rubbish, zero waste’ approach. To delve into compost, to provide ideas and the means to put them into place.”

‘A digital bridge between merchants and consumers’

By all accounts, Parisians are at last putting in the effort. “The 2016 law against food waste raised public awareness and encouraged people to stop the wasting,” says Julien Meimon, who founded Linkee, a community platform that fights food waste and poverty by redistributing an average of 1,000 meals a day to people in need. “We use food waste as a tool and not as an end. The priority for these foodstuffs should be getting them to people who are hungry.”

Other (lucrative) platforms also play a role. Apps like Optimiam and Too Good to Go get consumers involved by providing access to end-of-service packed meals from shops, restaurants and bakeries that might otherwise have gone to waste. Savvy users can reap discounts as high as 80 percent while doing their bit. Optimiam casts ”a digital bridge between merchants and consumers”. Created in 2014 by Raodath Aminou and Alexandre Ellage, the app now boasts 900 partners – including chains like Franprix and Carrefour City supermarkets and Subway sandwich shops – and has already salvaged more than 100 tonnes of food. For her part, Lucie Basch, whose Too Good to Go app just celebrated its second birthday, gives new life to 9,000 meals every day.

>> Read more: Michelin-starred chef transforms food waste into fine dining for the needy in Paris

While the road ahead is a long one, Paris supermarket employees do note fewer bins to roll to the curb. “In 2015, we salvaged 36,000 tons of foodstuffs from supermarkets, from a total of 105,000,” Jacques Baillet, the president of the Banque alimentaire network of foodbanks, said. “In 2017, that number had risen to 46,000 tons out of 110,000, or the equivalent of 92 million meals,” Baillet told the French financial daily Les Echos.

Still, the burgeoning awareness over food waste isn’t to everyone's taste. “There’s nothing in there!” cried Silem, slapping closed a bin behind a Parisian supermarket. The frail-looking retiree visits the same spot every morning at 8:45 sharp with her shopping caddy, waiting for store employees to bring out the now-meager batch of unsold goods. Soon Silem and her friends won’t bother turning up at all.

This article has been translated from the original in French.

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