Fines for stealing supermarket waste is ‘absurd’ — German students call out court on their judgement.

Two students who were fined for taking food from a supermarket waste bin have lodged an appeal with Germany’s highest court.

Franziska Stein (26) and Caroline Krüger (28) were each handed a N90000 (£194) suspended fine and told to spend eight hours helping in a food bank.

That ruling from Bavaria’s top court upheld a local court’s verdict that they were guilty of theft.

The women argue that they are helping society by reducing food waste.

In a blog, they call the Bavarian ruling “absurd” because “in a time of climate crisis, the protection of our livelihoods is being downgraded”.

In June 2018 they unlocked an Edeka supermarket waste bin at night in Olching, near Munich, and fished out still-edible fruit, yoghurt and vegetables.

But they were then stopped by two police officers who emptied their rucksack and made them put the food back in the waste bin.

A Berlin non-governmental organisation, the Society for Civil Rights (GFF), is helping the students in their plea. GFF argues that such cases, like possession of small amounts of cannabis, should not go to court.

The case went to the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe on Friday.

Does it mean that taking discarded food is illegal?

German media report that the definition of “property” is key in this case.

The prosecution argued that the waste bins belonged to the supermarket and the students had no right to decide what to do with the contents.

The daily Süddeutsche Zeitung poses the moral question: does theft still count as theft when it is socially useful?

By extension, the “Robin Hood” argument could be used to justify robbing morally dubious banks in order to distribute their cash to poor people.

It would be different if, say, the supermarket had left unsold food in an open container for people to help themselves to it.

Under German law, the students in the Olching case could be liable for fines of €1,200 each.

Isn’t this taking the concept of ‘theft’ too far?

The students say their action was justifiable, as Germany throws away at least 12m tonnes of food annually – according to the federal government. The conservation group WWF estimates the quantity to be 18m tonnes.

Consigning that waste to landfill, or turning some of it into animal feed, costs a lot of money and fuel.