Meal Kits Might Actually Have a Smaller Carbon Footprint than Grocery Shopping

updated Apr 29, 2019
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Earth Day might be over, but these days there’s no time to stop thinking about sustainability — in what we eat, how we carry it home, and even how it’s delivered to our houses. Usually, learning about the sustainability of something means having to cancel all your faves, but a recent NPR article demonstrated that for once the easy answer might just be the better one for the earth. At least when it comes to meal-kit delivery services.

Yes, the little plastic packages and big cardboard boxes might seem wasteful and ecologically unfriendly, but it turns out they actually help in a different way: reducing food waste. Like how plastic bags can actually be more sustainable than reusable totes, it seems counterintuitive. But according to a study by an environmental scientist at the University of Michigan, when you look at the big picture, from growing the food, delivery, cooking, and tossing out the trash, the answer is that grocery shopping for your meal produces 33% more greenhouse gas emissions than an equivalent meal purchased from Blue Apron.

Much of the advantage comes in the form of reducing food waste and creating a more streamlined supply chain. It turns out, when weighed against the overall impact of everything that goes into your meal, the packaging is a tiny aspect of it.

The study was done by ordering Blue Apron meals and cooking them side-by-side with similar meals from the grocery store and comparing the packaging, distribution, food waste, and other factors. The surprising result was that the meal kits, despite their plastic waste, still produced fewer greenhouse gas emissions. And yes, that even includes the delivery portion.

It seems like a good argument for looking a bit more favorably on the meal kits — and hopefully pressuring them to find even more ways to become the most sustainable option.