Meal Delivery Services Are Convenient, But Wasteful

Blue Apron, HelloFresh, Purple Carrot—there are more meal kit delivery services popping up every day. Odds are you are probably familiar with them—it is a challenge to find just one popular podcast that doesn’t slip in a sponsored Blue Apron ad. Essentially, these companies deliver boxes of refrigerated food to your house every week with the exact proportions to make 3 or 4 meals for between 1 and 4 people. No leftovers, no rotting produce that gets hidden in the back of your fridge, just no-stress, 30-minute meals for busy weekdays. Sounds great, right?

Unfortunately, all this packaging and transportation makes an unfortunate and sizable dent on the environment.

Okay. Meal delivery kits cut down on food waste, which helps the planet. They also generally source their foods from sustainable suppliers that many people across the country might not have local access to. So, sure, maybe they are doing something to make our food system incrementally healthier. That’s all well and good. But, as we are in the midst of a potential environmental catastrophe (ahem, climate change, people!), the good doesn’t necessarily outweigh the bad. And the bad is that their whole premise is predicated upon single-use, disposable packing material.

Take Blue Apron, for instance. They are selling over 8 million meals a month and growing. Not only are they shipping those 8 million meals to all corners of the country, a potentially large carbon footprint on its own, but they are known for their wasteful packaging. Think of the plastic wasted on 8 million individually-wrapped celery stalks! And, even more wasteful, consider the 8-16 million disposable freezer packs are tossed, too. I mean, what else are you going to do with the freezer packs you receive weekly?

The issue with freezer packs is the chemical goo. What do you even do with it? HelloFresh suggests cutting the bag open, flushing the water-soluble goo down the toilet, and recycling the #4 plastic shell. Just make sure your recycling center can process #4 plastic. If they can recycle plastic grocery bags, odds are they can.

Of course, Blue Apron does accept returned freezer packs, free-of-charge. Actually they accept all the packaging back, for those who don’t have adequate recycling programs locally. They also claim to work with the USPS “to use existing delivery routes, so there’s no additional carbon footprint to your return.” But how many people actually take advantage of this offer? And what are they doing with the freezer packs, which generally resist recycling? According to Mother Jones writer Kiera Butler, “When I asked what the company does with all those used freezer packs, Evarts (Blue Apron spokeswoman) only told me, ‘We retain them for future use.’ So does that mean Blue Apron is actually reusing the packs in its meal kits, or is there an ever-growing mountain of them languishing in a big warehouse somewhere?”

The issue is, we all know the most economical and sustainable way to buy goods is in larger, manageable quantities—not single-use packets, and certainly not in small, refrigerated shipments. We need to phase out the disposability of the goods in our culture if we want to move towards a more sustainable world. But don’t worry, if you love meal delivery kits, there are more sustainable options. Purple Carrot, a plant-based meal kit service who has partnered with the likes of Mark Bittman and Tom Brady, has a pretty clean operation. Other services, take note of their recycling protocol:

-They use no virgin materials in their packaging; it’s all post-consumer recycled waste, which is great.

-Their baggies are BPA-free, among other things, and Purple Carrot recommends you reuse them as sandwich baggies around the house—smart.

-For the freezer packs, they suggest storing a few for any upcoming camping trips, but suggest squeezing out the non-toxic mystery gel and recycling the plastic—not much else you can do I suppose.

-Purple Carrot also suggests composting food scraps (carrot tops, potato peels), either in your own garden or through a city compost collection service. This reduces excess gases from building up in landfills.

-All of the other bottles and bags and cardboard materials can be reused at home or easily recycled (although it is unclear whether they would take packaging back free-of-charge like Blue Apron if you were unable to recycle it yourself).

No one is perfect, but at least it’s a step in the right direction. But, let’s be real—if you don’t have time to shop for your own food for recipes at a grocery store, you probably aren’t going to dedicate the time to such an elaborate recycling protocol. Perhaps Purple Carrot customers (who may be more sustainably-minded as they already subscribe to a more sustainable plant-based diet meal service) might give recycling some priority, but the vast majority of meal delivery service customers will not. And therein lies the issue. It is a company’s responsibility to ensure that it is as convenient as possible for customers to return, recycle or reuse their packaging, but most of these popular meal kit companies fall short.

Meal service kits aren’t going away. There are currently over 100 meal delivery kit companies in the US alone. Even Amazon is jumping onboard the dinner delivery train through a partnership with Tyson in Amazon Fresh. So, it is up to consumers to put their dollars in the right direction. Either get smart about reducing food waste at home with a little bit of planning (seriously, it’s easy and so much cheaper), or choose services that cover the spectrum of sustainability, not just a marketable facet.

Related:
Your Paper Coffee Cup Is an Eco-Nightmare
Do You Actually Take Care of Yourself?
Your Kitchen Sponge Is Gross. Here’s How to Change That

43 comments

Vincent T
Vincent T8 days ago

thanks for sharing

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Sonia M
Sonia M12 days ago

Thanks for sharing

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Jetana A
Jetana A23 days ago

Can't help thinking "Yuppie scum!" This "service" is totally unnecessary and environmentally despicable.

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Beryl L
Beryl Ludwigabout a month ago

I always have considered the fact that all the packaging material and energy used to prepare the package and deliver and recycle added together wasn't worth harming the environment to save a little food. Buy less and eat it up don't leave food LANGUISHING in your fridge.

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Janis K
Janis Kabout a month ago

Thanks for sharing.

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Hannah A
Hannah Aabout a month ago

Thank you.

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Fred Campbell
Fred Campbellabout a month ago

A careful shopper and cook can create quick meals without a lot of waste. Flushing unknown chemicals down the toilet and into the environment bothers me.

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Ellie M
Ellie Mabout a month ago

ty

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Janet B
Janet Babout a month ago

Thanks

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Winn A
Winn Aabout a month ago

Not for me

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