Boxed meal kit programs from companies such as Blue Apron and HelloFresh, which deliver pre-portioned ingredients and instructions to your door, have a bad environmental reputation because they use lots of cardboard and plastic packaging. But this may be a bum rap in large part, according to a recent study in Resources, Conservation, and Recycling.
Researchers from the University of Michigan analyzed five two-person meal kits and the same meals made from ingredients purchased at grocery stores for overall greenhouse gas emissions—from agricultural and packaging production to distribution, supply chain losses, and food and packaging waste. They found that the kits had, on average, about a 25 percent smaller total carbon footprint.
While meal kits are worse in terms of packaging, they minimize food waste because of pre-portioned ingredients, bulk preparation, and streamlined supply chains. That is, before and after conventional meals are prepared at home, more food gets wasted at markets (for instance, due to overstocking and spoilage) and at home (unused ingredients and leftovers that get discarded)—and food production has agreater environmental cost than packaging production and waste, according to the researchers. Thus, if meal kits, with all their packaging, reduce food waste, there’s likely to be a “net environmental benefit.”
In addition, there are differences in “last-mile emissions.” With meal kits, each kit represents just a tiny fraction of the delivery truck’s emissions, while home-prepared meals typically involve consumers driving to and from markets to buy ingredients, which burns more fuel for less food.
Keep in mind that the best way to reduce the environmental impact of your diet is simply to limit your intake of animal products.
This article first appeared in the UC Berkeley Wellness Letter.
Also see The Case for Composting.