By Tara Biglari
Arash Derambarsh, a French city councilor and campaigner against food waste, is this year’s winner of the world’s leading sustainability prize, the Win Win Gothenburg Sustainability Award.
Derambarsh’s campaign against food waste resulted in a 2016 French law forcing supermarkets and other food outlets to donate unwanted food to charity.
“Arash Derambarsh’s efforts have inspired people around the world, and have helped to put the issue of food waste on the global agenda,” the Swedish committee said in its citation. “His work shows that it is possible to make a difference and take concrete steps in a sustainable direction when it comes to the wasting of food.”
Derambarsh started his campaign by collecting and distributing unwanted food to needy people from his local supermarket, helping around 100 people every day, ranging from single mothers to pensioners, low-paid public-sector workers and the homeless. Circulating a petition to prohibit food outlets from throwing away still-edible food products, he garnered more than 200,000 signatures in just four months, and his legislative bill was passed in the French parliament in February 2016. The law bars supermarkets from throwing away food that is nearing its sell-by date, and forces them to donate it or face a 3,750-euro fine.
“The prize is an honor,” Derambarsh said in an interview with Kayhan Life, “but it’s not only for me – it’s for France, for all the people working to fight poverty and food waste.” It “shows the absurdity of food waste, the absurdity that many people can’t have food.”
Derambarsh was born to Iranian parents in Paris. After completing his secondary education, he decided to become a lawyer and got a Ph.D. in law from Sorbonne University in Paris.
He has been recognized as one of the 100 Leading Global Thinkers of 2016 by Foreign Policy magazine. His book “Manifeste Contre le Gaspillage” (“Manifesto Against Food Waste”) received the Prix Edgar Faure in 2015.
Derambarsh said in the interview that the law against food waste could benefit the homeless, the poor and the invisible middle classes. He called on the European Union and on countries in the rest of the world to adopt similar laws.
He pointed out that he started this campaign in April 2014, just after he was elected city councilor in the Paris suburb of Courbevoie. “I did that because when I was a student, I had difficulties earning money. With an 800-euro salary and a 400-euro monthly rent, I tried to channel my energy into changing the situation in society. It was simple: I focused my energy on changing laws on food waste. I was shocked when I saw how this unsold food was getting thrown into the garbage each night, and I tried to help fix it.”
According to Foreign Policy Global Thinkers, in 2016, roughly 15 billion pounds of food was trashed in France annually. Derambarsh said that thanks to this law, over 10 million meals were now distributed annually by charities to people in need.
“What Arash Derambarsh has done is a great example of how everybody can make a difference at a higher level,” said Emma Dalväg, chair of the Win Win Gothenburg Sustainability Award committee. “His focus is on changing attitudes and elevating the issue of food waste to a legislative level. The French law puts an end to the enormous wasting of resources that a non-circular food supply leads to, and this makes Arash Derambarsh an important leader and role model.”
Derambarsh has now started a second petition for the campaign to be extended across Europe. The petition has now attracted more than 1.5 million signatures, and is supported by the French Red Cross, Action Against Hunger, and the United Nations World Food Program.
Arash Derambarsh will receive the Win Win Gothenburg Sustainability Award on October 31st at a ceremony held at the Göteborg Opera in Gothenburg.
The award, presented since 2000, aims to recognize and support outstanding initiatives that strike the right balance between ecological, environmental and social needs. Previous winners have included former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan (2011), former United States Vice President Al Gore (2007) and Park-Won Soon, Mayor of Seoul (2016).