Meal Kits Are Better for the Planet Than Grocery Shopping, Study Says
So you’re not exactly Julia Child in the kitchen? Don’t feel guilty about buying those easy-to-prepare, home-delivered meal kits, such as Hello Fresh or Blue Apron. A new study says they’re better for the planet than grocery-store meals.
Meal kits offer pre-measured ingredients and step-by-step recipes, eliminate the hassle of shopping, and even teach newbie cooks how to find their way around a stove. But since they’re delivered in a large box, with items often wrapped in plastic and cardboard for protection, some worry about the environmental impact.
It’s not that the packaging isn’t a problem — it sure is. But the study, published April 22 in the journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling, reports that an average meal made from groceries bought in a store produces 33 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than a meal kit meal.
“Folks are really focused on the plastics and packaging in meal kits,” University of Michigan environmental scientist Shelie Miller, who led the study, told NPR. “That’s important, but it’s not the full story.”
Part of it has to do with the fact that the meal kit meal is portioned out, usually for two people. When you buy ingredients at your local grocery store, you’re stuck purchasing the amount of chicken or ground beef the store offers, leading to leftovers and food waste. Meal kits will often send out just two hamburger buns or a to-go-sized packet of mustard, exactly what the recipe calls for, so that nothing goes to waste. So while meal kits may offer more packaging, the grocery store meal results in more wasted food.
“Results suggest that meal kits’ streamlined and direct-to-consumer supply chains, reduced food waste, and lower last-mile transportation emissions, appear to be sufficient to offset observed increases in packaging,” the report notes.
Sometimes the meal kits come with refrigeration packs to keep the ingredients cold, but the report notes that the packs actually have less of an environmental impact than the refrigeration required for ingredients that shoppers might buy in the store.
And if you stick to chicken, plant-based or other non-red meat meals, you can bring your carbon footprint down even more, the study notes. Meals with red meat have the largest environmental impact. And there are other ways to eat well while staying environmentally friendly. Cooks can cut down on food waste by employing these 27 ways to make your food last longer.