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Starbucks Ramps Up Food Donations Nationwide

Words by Leon Kaye

As much as 40 percent of food in the U.S. goes to waste for a variety of reasons: government regulations that hinder stores and restaurants from donating food to homeless shelters or food banks; the desire by stores and restaurants to make food look as presentable as possible; and corporate bureaucracies that often make it impossible for employees to take action and have a voice, even if it is a calling for good.

One company notorious for food waste is Starbucks. The recent acquisitions of fresh juice maker Evolution Fresh and bakery chain La Boulange allowed the company to upgrade its menu offerings, many of which end up in the trash at the end of a workday.

The company, despite its pledges to improve on this front, has long struggled with waste diversion and recycling. Starbucks touts its recycling efforts, for example, but that effort ends when baristas take out the trash -- if the property management company at which a store is located separates its waste or takes part in a co-mingled recycling program, Starbucks can take credit. If it all goes to a landfill, well, it is out of the company’s hands.

The same goes for food waste: Those fancy breakfast sandwiches and pastries are individually wrapped in plastic, so if they don’t sell by their expiration dates, no one obviously is going to go through the trouble of composting them even if such an option existed. If employees take unwanted or expired food products home, give them to friends or family, or take them to a local food bank or homeless shelter on their own volition, they are lucky if they only get a slap on the wrist. In fairness to Starbucks, however, the liability culture rampant in the U.S. and regulations covering the distribution of fresh food get in the way of doing good — even though the stubborn truth is that the fuss over expiration dates, for the most part, is way too hyper-cautious. In the meantime, as many as 17.5 million American households are at risk from food insecurity, according to the NGO WorldHunger.org.

But Starbucks is making a change. As announced in a recent press release, the company is working with two nonprofits to do something with those unwanted turkey, bacon and egg sandwiches, protein boxes, and focaccia melts. Feeding America, a network of food banks that spans the U.S., and Food Donation Connection (FDC), an NGO that partners with food-service companies to find alternatives to discarding food, will work with Starbucks on a quest to make 100 percent of Starbucks’ food available for local donations within five years.

During this first year, Starbucks says it will be able to provide 5 million meals nationwide. By 2021, that number, if all goes according to plan, should surge to 21 million annually. That would mean all of Starbuck’s 7,600 U.S. locations, including those in supermarkets or retail chains such as Target, will need to buy into this program.

Starbucks follows the lead of other fast-casual and restaurant chains that donate food to local nonprofits. Panera Bread, for example, has long donated unsold bread and other baked goods to local charities. Darden Restaurants, which operates chains like Olive Garden and Longhorn Steakhouse, donates surplus food to nonprofits including FDC. And Chipotle offers unneeded grills and food processors to local charities and schools that can use them in their kitchens.

Far too much food still ends up in landfill, but Starbucks’ efforts sends a message to other food companies that they cannot pass the buck — creativity goes a long way to solving the related problems of food waste and hunger.

Image credit: Starbucks

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

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