Starbucks has officially joined the fight against America’s monumental food waste. It’s announced a new plan to donate all unsold pastries, sandwiches, salads, and other food boxes to charity, combining the industry’s push to curb waste with a brilliant way to feed hungry Americans. The company says “100 percent” of each day’s leftovers at its 7,600 U.S. locations will be given to Feeding America, a nonprofit that runs a network of food banks. Like any place that sells food, Starbucks has always erred on the side of over-caution when it comes to discarding products — nothing sits in the pastry or cold case for more than a couple of days, even though it could probably last twice as long before actually expiring. (In reality, store employees often save unsold stuff for their own meal breaks.) It’s probably no surprise that CEO Howard Schultz says baristas actually suggested they donate the extras because it’s their job to throw expired items out each night. “Our people just felt so badly,” he told CNN. “And this has been going on for quite some time.”
The more Starbucks turns into a fast-food chain, the more perishable food ends up requiring refrigeration in stores. Unlike bagels and coffee cakes, these things can’t just go into a bag, so for this program, refrigerated vans will pick up cafés’ leftovers every day and deliver them to Feeding America food banks. It’s always been fine for individual locations to donate food to local charities, but a corporate-wide program like this run with a single national charity cuts out all the red tape. Under this program, Starbucks says it will hand out 5 million ready-to-eat meals by the end of 2016, and predicts the number will hit 50 million by 2021. Coincidentally, the government says 14 percent of U.S. households — or roughly 48 million Americans — don’t know where their next meal is coming from.