According to recent estimates by FUSIONS (Food Use for Social Innovation by Optimising Waste Prevention Strategies), some 88 million tonnes of food is wasted every year in the European Union, and the related cost may be about EUR 143 billion. Although most food waste (c. 50%) occurs in households, distribution accounts for about 5%, or over 4 million tonnes of wasted food per year.
To date, regulatory efforts to combat food waste in Poland have been reflected in the tax laws. Producers and distributors making gifts of food to public-benefit organisations are exempt from VAT on such contributions. But that is not enough to effectively combat the waste of food.
A solution is supposed to be offered by the Act on Prevention of Food Waste, adopted by the Sejm on 19 July 2019. A portion of the regulations went into force on 18 September 2019, and the rest will enter into force on 1 March 2020.
Free transfer of foods for social purposes
The act establishes duties of food sellers to combat food waste. The aim is to reduce the negative social, environmental and economic consequences of food waste.
Food waste is understood to mean withdrawal from the distribution stage of food that meets the requirements of food law. This has to do with any substances or products intended for human consumption. The act thus applies to products approaching their use-by date or having packaging too damaged for sale.
To reduce the waste of food, sellers must enter into an agreement with a non-governmental organisation for free transfer of food for social purposes. Such organisations include entities referred to in the Act on Public Benefit Activity and Volunteerism of 24 April 2003 as well as legal persons and organisational units operating under the regulations governing relations between the state and churches and other religious congregations, and guarantees of freedom of creed and conscience.
The statutory purposes of these organisations must be to perform tasks lying within the sphere of public tasks involving social assistance for families and individuals in difficult life situations and charitable activity consisting specifically of delivering food to persons in need or operating facilities for collective feeding of persons in need.
At first big stores and warehouses
The act is aimed at entities operating a food enterprise involving the sale of food in retail or wholesale units with a sales area above 250 m2. For the first two years, the act will apply only to commercial units with an area above 400 m2, whose revenue from food sales constitutes at least 50% of their revenue from sale of all goods.
Thus, whether the act already applies to a given store depends on two factors: whether the facility has an area of more than 400 m2 and whether the entity’s revenue from food sales accounts for at least 50% of its total revenue. The regulations thus apply to most large stores in Poland, also including wholesalers.
Education and reporting
The act also imposes an obligation on sellers to conduct an educational and informational campaign on rational management of food. According to the proponents, food sellers have great opportunities to impact consumers, and thus promote positive mechanisms in society for managing food.
Additionally, under the new regulations, a food seller is required to submit an annual written report on food waste to the environmental protection and water management fund for the province where it conducts food sales, with data on the total mass of food wasted within the year.
Fees for wasting food and fines
The act also introduces fees for wasting food and fines for failure to conclude an agreement to deliver free of charge to an NGO food that would go to waste.
Under the new regulations, a seller will be charged a fee for failure to deliver food to a non-governmental organisation equal to PLN 0.10 per kilogramme of wasted products. This fee is calculated based on 90% of the mass of the food, and thus in practice works out to PLN 0.09/kg.
In the event of failure to conclude an agreement an NGO, a food seller is required to pay this fee to the bank account of the environmental protection and water management fund for the province where it has its registered office. These receipts are to be used for initiatives combatting food waste.
Failure to conclude an agreement with an NGO is also subject to a fine of PLN 5,000, but the act allows for certain exceptions. A food seller will avoid the fine if it can show that it had no ability to conclude such an agreement with an NGO operating in the county where the seller operates.
There will be a fine of PLN 500–10,000 for failing to pay fees to the NGO or the province environmental protection and water management fund.
These fines are to be imposed by way of an administrative decision by the province environmental protection inspector. Failure to file food waste reports by food sellers or NGOs will be regarded as a petty offence punishable by a fine.
The regulations involving fees for failing to deliver food to NGOs and fines enter into force on 1 March 2020.
Will the new regulations change anything?
Previously there were no regulations in Poland directly combatting food waste. The existing regulations created more barriers than incentives in this respect. The new regulations appear to be aimed in the right direction. The drafters intend the regulations to bring food distributors into existing and functioning mechanisms for combatting the waste of food, and contributing food to NGOs is intended to have a positive impact on the sustainability of the food system economically, socially and environmentally.
At this stage it is hard to guess whether the new solutions will achieve the intended results, or first and foremost to determine how SMEs involved in the sale of food will respond to the changes.
Karolina Kozłowska, Life Science and Regulatory practice, Wardyński & Partners