How Earth-Friendly Are Meal Kits, Really?

Top10.com Staff
Sustainable, locally sourced farming
From ditching the plastic straws to carpooling to work and bringing your own bags to the grocery store, the importance of conservation is something we should all be able to agree on. Meal kit companies can help by supporting sustainable providers and making sure that you have exactly the amount of food you need so you’re not over-purchasing and throwing out food.

But what about the packaging? The waste created with every food kit order, even if it is the best meal delivery service, is something of a turnoff for many customers, so let’s take a look at what it entails and what you can do.  

Sustainability 

Packaging aside, one of the ways that meal kit companies do better by the environment is by supporting sustainable, organic—and when possible—local providers. Sun Basket has made its 99% organic menu items a major selling point, and for Blue Apron, “building a better food system” is central to the company’s vision. 

The Blue Apron approach includes working with partners to create a distribution system that provides high-quality products and supports local growers. Like other meal kit companies, Blue Apron also provides Non-GMO ingredients, meat that isn’t fed antibiotics or hormones, and sustainable seafood that has been recommended by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Sun Basket, for their part, provide meats that are antibiotic and hormone free, as well as pasture-raised lamb and turkey, and organic milk, yogurt, and eggs. 


HelloFresh, Growers Express Farm
 Growers Express Farm, HelloFresh partner


Partnering with local providers is a commendable step that can help local communities as well as the environment. That said, it doesn’t change the sustainability issues raised by the delivery of the meal kits. 

Blue Apron has only 3 distribution centers, in California, New Jersey and Texas and the distribution centers for HelloFresh are in the same 3 states. In other words, if you order a meal kit in say, Indiana, the materials could be shipped to a distribution center in Texas and then driven on a truck all the way to the Midwest. 

For people who live near the distribution centers, the carbon footprint may not be that significant, but in more remote or far-flung areas the journey that your ingredients have to take will be very significant. Also, the farther the food travels, the more insulation and ice packs you’ll need to keep it all fresh. 

Cutting down on Waste 

A convenient aspect of meal kits when it comes to conservation is the fact that they include precisely measured ingredients. You won’t need to buy an entire 750ml bottle of hoisin sauce for the tablespoon your recipe requires, nor will you end up throwing out rotten potatoes after you completely overestimated what you’d need for that side of scalloped potatoes. 

The difference can be significant. According to a study commissioned by Blue Apron in 2016, the company wastes 5.5 percent of its food, as opposed to 10.5 percent for grocery stores. The study also found that while grocery store shoppers toss almost 24 percent of the food they buy, Blue Apron users only chuck 7.6 percent of their ingredients.

What’s for [Your Earth-Friendly] Dinner?

The meal kit business is an exciting, dynamic industry that has taken flight in recent years and should be expected to evolve dramatically in the years to come. Packaging, sustainability, and delivery will combine to be major issues facing these companies as they expand, and could change the industry as a whole. 

Concerns about the extensive shipping and packaging of products could lead to a push for more retailers to partner with meal kit companies to sell their kits in-store, in order to cut down on packaging and delivery distances. These concerns could see the opening of more regional distribution centers and a better supply chain for people looking to recycle packaging. 

Regardless, one of the great hallmarks of the meal kit industry is that it encourages people to cook on their own and embrace the joy of standing over your kitchen counter preparing that night’s dinner, something that can be healthy, great fun, and when done right, sustainable and friendly to the environment.

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Top10.com Staff
Top10.com's editorial staff is a professional team of editors, writers and experts with dozens of years of experience covering consumer, financial and business products and services.