Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
The chain is working towards donating all of its unsold food.
Starbucks is slated to be one of the first megalithic chains in the U.S. to donate 100 percent of its unsold food. The company announced a comprehensive charity collaboration in a recent press release, upping its game in the fight against food waste.
The chain has been donating surplus baked goods since 2010, but this expansion will also include all refrigerated perishables, such as fruit cups and sandwiches.
It’s not going to be one sweeping change: The company projects that it will take a few years to scale up to the goal of donating 100 percent of the still-edible leftovers. In the first year, it’s aiming to redirect 5 million meals, growing the volume to 50 million by 2021, the Huffington Post reported.
Refrigerated vans will eventually make the rounds to all of the chain’s 7,600 outposts each day, collecting leftovers to distribute to food banks, Fortune reported. The initiative, called FoodShare, is a collaboration between the coffee chain and the anti-hunger organizations Food Donation Connection and Feeding America.
The move nods to the twin goals of reducing food waste and mitigating the hunger problem. Despite the fact that the U.S. loses 63 million tons of food each year, 14 percent of American households are food insecure, meaning that they sometimes lack reliable access to nutritious meals.
It could also be savvy from a business perspective. The money lost to wasted food—to the tune of some $165 billion—“whets the appetite of a lot of creative entrepreneurs out there," Elise Golan, the director for sustainable development in the Office of the Chief Economist at the US Department of Agriculture, told The Guardian. For some, the problem was the launch pad for endeavors responding specifically to the crisis of wasted food. One grocery store in the Boston area, for example, sells only food teetering on the end of its edible life. There’s also a growing market for food storage products that claims to eke a few more days out of perishable produce.
Businesses would also benefit from wasting less food to begin with. A recent report from ReFED found that if businesses were more precise in gauging their ideal inventories, they’d stand to save upwards of $1 billion. Food that sits on the shelf eats away at the bottom line.
Other countries are way ahead of the U.S. when it comes to doing an about-face on food waste. As of earlier this year, French supermarkets are required by law to donate their unsold food instead of tossing it. (Some of the little shops are exempt, though: the rule only applies to stores larger than 400 square meters.) Those who skirt the rule risk a fine of 3,750 euros. This week, Italy passed a similar bill that would use tax reductions as incentives for grocery stores to donate leftover food. The U.K.-based Tesco supermarket chain also announced this month that it’s expanding its pilot program to redistribute unsold food to charities.
Stateside, there are a handful of state-wide regulations that aim to cap large-scale food waste, but relatively fewer policies on the national level. When it comes to large-scale interventions against food waste, the U.S. is late to the party, but we haven’t missed the whole thing. Maybe corporations are just the first to arrive.