Meal delivery kits are incredibly convenient for busy people. With a regular subscription, you can order a box of ingredients to be delivered to your door each week, complete with colourful recipe cards detailing how to prepare restaurant-quality meals at home.
But are these meal boxes bad for the planet? Or can they provide a greener option than trips to the supermarket?
I’ve tried and tested over ten different meal delivery services. In this article, I’ll report on my personal experiences along with the results of scientific studies on the issue.
By Jenni Fielding, founder of Choose Veganism.
Are meal kits more environmentally friendly than supermarket food?
According to a recent study, meal kits have 33% less greenhouse gas emissions than supermarket meals. While recipe kits do use considerably more packaging, this is offset by reduced food waste, streamlined supply chains and lower transport emissions. [Source]
3.6 million tonnes of food is wasted by the food industry each year in the UK alone. That equates to 7.2% of all food harvested.
Be honest… When you buy a bag of salad leaves, how often do you eat the last ones in the packet?
Despite our best intentions, UK households waste a lot of food. That’s in addition to the food that’s wasted before it even reaches our refrigerators.
With meal kits, there’s zero food waste. All of the ingredients are perfectly portioned. So as long as you have time to actually cook the meals that are sent this week, you can rest comfortably in the knowledge that nothing is wasted.
Of course, this requires a little forward planning. You’ll need to make sure that you find time to eat any fresh produce that’s already in your fridge when the box arrives!
While meal kits have the advantage of reduced waste, this can sometimes be negated by the increase in packaging, especially plastic and non-recyclable waste.
Why is food packaging bad for the environment?
A lot of food packaging isn’t biodegradable or recyclable, so it can either end up in landfills or as pollution on land or in the ocean. Food packaging can be particularly harmful if it makes its way into rivers and oceans where it can harm wildlife.
There’s no denying that meal kits come with a lot of packaging. Sometimes, when I make a meal using a recipe kit, it disgusts me a little to see the pile of little plastic sachets that litter my countertop at the end.
But, some meal delivery services are certainly better than others when it comes to packaging. Many use paper bags for fruit and vegetables, although I’ve yet to discover a meal kit that’s 100% plastic-free.
Most meal delivery services use recycled denim offcuts for insulation to keep chilled items cold. These can be sent back to the company to reuse, or you can reuse them at home for a variety of projects just as stuffing cushions, soundproofing rooms or as pet bedding.
You may think that delivery vans travelling around the country dropping off recipe boxes will cause a lot of emissions. But the truth is that most recipe box deliveries have a much lower carbon footprint than you might expect.
In fact, some meal delivery companies like Hello Fresh and Planty are actually carbon-neutral. By teaming up with delivery companies like DPD, they’re able to make use of load-optimised electric delivery vehicles and use offsetting programs to cancel out the remaining emissions.
Animal agriculture is the second-largest contributor to human-made greenhouse gas emissions, after the burning of fossil fuels. It’s a leading cause of deforestation, air pollution, water pollution and loss of biodiversity.
Reducing our meat consumption will therefore have a positive impact on the environment and slow the rate of global heating.
Yet many people find it difficult to adopt a plant-based lifestyle, particularly if meat is the focal point of most of their evening meals.
Vegan meal delivery kits make it easy for people to try new plant-based recipes. Whether you want to recreate your meaty favourites with mock meats or learn to cook new vegetables that you would usually walk straight past in the supermarket, they can make vegan cooking easier than ever.
Organic fruits and vegetables can be expensive. But by choosing a meal kit that includes small portions of organic fruit and veg with no waste, it can be more affordable than you might think.
The best meal kits will offer seasonal menus, making use of produce that’s in abundance at the current time of year without being transported around the world.
Are meal kits ethical?
Meal kits should be considered to be ethical because they are generally good for the environment with reduced food waste and lower supply chain emissions. While packaging is a concern, companies are generally working hard to limit this as much as possible and make use of biodegradable and recyclable materials where possible.
Some meal delivery companies, such as Mindful Chef, have also partnered with charities, donating a portion of their profits to help people who can’t afford to eat healthy food.
Look out for companies that are certified B-Corps – This means that they meet the highest standards of social and environmental performance
Are food delivery services sustainable?
To conclude, food delivery services can be considered to be sustainable compared to supermarket-bought food. However, standards do vary from company to company.
For the most environmentally-friendly delivery boxes, look out for those that offer plant-based recipes, recyclable and biodegradable packaging, carbon-neutral deliveries and organic produce.