Starbucks plans to donate 100 percent of unsold food in America

[FILE] Starbucks started selling $1 plastic cups in early 2013, which can be reused for drink purchases at a discount of ten cents.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — Starbucks wants to donate all of its leftover food to the hungry.

The company said Tuesday that it will aim to contribute “100 percent” of its leftover food from its 7,000-plus U.S. locations by this time next year thanks in part to a new partnership with Feeding America, which has a national network of food banks.

The idea didn’t come from Starbucks’ corner offices — it came from baristas behind the counter.

“Our people just felt so badly. And this has been going on for quite some time. And so we started doing our homework– municipality by municipality,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz said in an interview with CNN’s Poppy Harlow.

Donating surplus food is not a new idea. Chipotle, Cheesecake Factory, Yum! Brands’ KFC and Taco Bell, and Darden’s Olive Garden already do it. Even Starbucks has donated unsold pastries to the Food Donation Connection since 2010.

But the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 30 percent to 40 percent of America’s food supply is wasted.

At the same time, a significant number of Americans go hungry. According to the USDA, 48.1 million — or about one in seven — Americans lived in households in 2014 that, at some point during the year, were unable or unsure of where to get their next meal.

“I’m always trying to educate myself on the current social issues of our time,” Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz told CNN’s Poppy Harlow. “And one of them is the fact that there are so many people in America that do not have the next meal to eat.”

While Starbucks has tried to donate food in the past, it didn’t have a “consistent process to do so,” Starbucks spokesperson Erin Schaeffer said.

“The challenge was finding a way to add fresh or perishable food, like breakfast sandwiches and salads to the donation pick up while preserving the food’s quality throughout the process,” Schaeffer added.

Starbucks plans to have given out 5 million meals — including breakfast sandwiches, paninis and salads — by the end of 2016. The company has invested in research to determine the best way to ensure food stays safe until it is consumed.

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