The Climate Impact of Meal Kits

Last night as I was plating up my Blue Apron Calabrian Beef & Gnocchi, I glanced quickly back at the sink where two giant packs of gel freeze slurry needed to go down the drain and the large cardboard box waiting to make it to the recycle bin and thought, “Man, this is a lot of waste, right? There’s no way this is good for the climate.” 


And that dear reader, is where I was apparently wrong.


According to a study out of the university of Michigan and reported on by NPR, “Brent Heard, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Michigan and first author of the study, says, ‘When you zoom out and look at the whole life cycle, packaging is a relatively small contributor to the overall environmental impacts of a meal. What really ends up mattering is the quantity of food wasted throughout the supply chain.’”


So let’s walk that out a little. When we consider waste over the food chain, we are talking about: transporting the veggies to the factory/warehouse, boxing up your noodles, shipping fresh bananas from South America so that you can make your protein shake on Dec. 23rd. And in addition to all of that, the sheer amount of literal food that is wasted.

The nonprofit ReFED estimates that in the US alone, every year:

  • 35% of food grown is uneaten
  • 24% of what goes in our landfills is food
  • 130 billion meals worth of food goes to waste!

That’s a lot of food. So, that fact that your meal kit box has perfectly portioned ingredients is actually a much bigger boon than you think. Despite that fact that there are still quite a few steps between the origin of these ingredients and your dinner plate (and as another pro-meal kit tip: these supply chains were statistically show to be much more streamlined. AKA, no grocery store involved.).


In a press release from Sept 15, 2022, Blue Apron has even taken “climate action steps” by partnering with Planet FWD as it works toward a Net Zero by 2030 plan. Other meal kit services have similar initiatives, such as HelloFresh’s Climate Rating label on each of its meals. SunBasket is working toward 100% recyclable and compostable packaging. 


The take home: don’t feel bad about ordering a meal kit, but do take the time to consider all of the steps and resources required to get food on your table. And while you’re at it, start planning your garden for next spring!


Read more about the University of Michigan study from NPR: https://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2019/04/22/716010599/meal-kits-have-smaller-carbon-footprint-than-grocery-shopping-study-says

The full rundown from ReFED on food waste and what you can do to reduce your impact: https://refed.org/food-waste/the-challenge/#overview

Commitments to sustainability from meal kit makers: