‘Doggy bag law’ introduced in France

French restaurants are now legally obliged to take measures to reduce their food waste, including by providing ‘doggy bags’ for leftover food if requested, after a new law came into effect on 1 January.

The law was initially passed by the French government in 2011 as part of an act that aims to reduce disposal of biodegradable waste by 50 per cent by 2025. Though it has been widely reported that restaurants are now obliged to provide customers with ‘le doggy bag’, such services are recommended as part of the legislation, but not mandatory.

The regulation applies to restaurants creating more than 10 tonnes of food waste per year (which normally means it would be serving between 150-200 meals per day), and obliges them to sort food waste associated with preparation, spoilage and leftovers. The catering industry is responsible for 14 per cent of the country’s food waste, averaging at one million tonnes per year according to government figures. A report last year warned that wasted food costs the country up to €20 billion (£14 billion), whilst 3.5 million residents rely on food aid.

The issue of food waste and food poverty has been gaining in prominence in France recently, with the National Assembly approving an amendment to another law that would prevent supermarkets from destroying or disposing unused edible food. While the proposal was dropped last summer, with a voluntary commitment to redistribute unsold fresh produce taking its place, in December members of the French National Assembly once again voted through the measures, making it likely that they will be made law this year.

‘Cultural obstacle’

Guillaume Garot, the former Minister for Food who drew up the new legislation, admitted in an April report to the French government that France faces a ‘cultural obstacle’ to accepting the use of doggy bags. While doggy bags are common in countries around the world, particularly in the United States, they are not widely offered or asked for in France, with requesting one often seen as something of a faux pas. Garot suggested that “most customers don’t dare ask for the remains of their meal” and chefs view it as ‘degradation’ of their dishes.

A survey conducted in the Southeast  of France in 2014 by the region’s food and farming state body found that while 75 per cent of French people are open to the idea of doggy bags, 70 per cent have never taken leftovers with them despite 60 per cent of Parisians not finishing everything on their plates when they eat out.

Changing mentalities

French authorities and the restaurant industry are seeking to change perceptions. An initiative launched in Paris in December saw 100 restaurants adopt the use of doggy bags in the wake of COP21.

Meanwhile, the Union of Hotels and Restaurant Industries (UMIH) has been promoting the use of the term ‘le gourmet bag’ instead of ‘le doggy bag’ in an attempt to make the practice more palatable to French customers.