Spain is one of the countries with the highest density of pubs and inns in all of Europe. Among other things, this has to do with the fact that you usually don’t meet friends at home, but at the counter or at the restaurant table. Tourists also appreciate the rich gastronomic offer.
Enjoying a paella or tapas on a nice terrace is part of a holiday in Mallorca or on the Mediterranean coast. But Spain’s famous and lavish food culture brings with it a major problem: significant food waste. Every year, tons of fresh food left on restaurant plates end up in the trash. Spain now wants to counteract this waste.
The center-left government of Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez passed a regulation this Tuesday that obliges restaurateurs to allow guests to take away leftovers – free of charge. So far, only a few European countries have similar far-reaching regulations.
Violators will be fined between €2,000 and €60,000 under the new Food Waste Act, which still has to be approved by Parliament. The new obligations of innkeepers should then include informing their guests about the new regulation. Something like this: “We’ll be happy to wrap up your leftovers to take away.”
Corresponding information must be visible on the menu or on signs in the guest room. To ensure that this does not lead to mountains of plastic packaging, it is also stipulated that the containers offered are made of biodegradable materials. But of course the guest can also bring his own Tupperware.
Up until now, you could ask the waiter to pack up the leftovers on the plate. But many customers were ashamed to do so. Because they believed that this was not the right thing to do. Or because they thought it was beneath their dignity. The innkeepers also sometimes stood in the way.
Spain’s consumer organizations have long been calling for the rights of guests to be strengthened. “Take home what’s left over,” was a campaign by the Spanish consumer association OCU. “It must be completely normal to use leftovers, and it must be an exception that we throw them away,” said the consumer advocates. And: “We shouldn’t be ashamed of taking the leftovers with us, but rather of not doing it.”
Spain’s Food Minister Luis Planas, who introduced the anti-waste law, agrees. His move comes at a time when the national inflation rate is at a record high of nearly 9 percent. An increase in prices that also affects the catering trade, their prices have risen by 10 to 20 percent. This price shock could now help raise awareness.
“The most expensive food product is the one that ends up in the trash,” warns the minister. Manufacturers and supermarkets are also encouraged to use food more sustainably: in future, unsaleable products will no longer simply end up in the garbage. Instead, they are to be distributed through food banks.
“This law wants to introduce best practices throughout the food processing chain to avoid waste,” the statement reads. It’s not just about making progress on the path to sustainability. Rather, the law is also an “ethical imperative”. Minister Planas recalled that at least 800 million people worldwide are suffering from hunger and another 1.6 billion have nutritional problems.
Incidentally, Mallorca pushed ahead with a similar law at regional level months ago. It enshrined the right for restaurant guests to take away any leftovers from their meals. Some innkeepers grumbled at first, but the complaints have since died down. Because the takeaway service has proven to be effective advertising. So that more waiters voluntarily ask if they want to take the leftovers home.