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Meal Kits vs Grocery Shopping — Which is Better for the Environment?

Discussing if meal kits are better for the environment than traditional grocery shopping

Meal kits have gotten a bad wrap. When they first hit the scene, people thought that grocery stores might go the way of Blockbuster. But that hasn’t been the case. The last few years have been tough for meal kit delivery services. Too many of them are losing money, mainly due to high overhead costs and a business model that some argue is unsustainable.

As if that isn’t bad enough, consumers see the cardboard box and plastic wraps used by meal delivery services and assume it’s bad for the environment. But is that actually true? Are meal kits worse for the environment than shopping at your local grocery store?

Read more: Comparing meal kits: Good Food vs Chef’s Plate.

Visible and invisible waste

If you’ve ever used a meal kit subscription, you know all about that cardboard box. Most of the ingredients in that box are wrapped or packed in plastic bags. That visible kind of waste is almost like a trigger. It leads you to believe that having your meals delivered on a weekly basis can’t be better for the environment than driving or walking to your local grocery store. But you’d be wrong.

Just because you can’t see it doesn’t mean it’s not there. If you’re only judging waste by the boxes and plastic, then you’re missing out on the bigger picture. The true environmental impact needs to be measured end to end — from the production of food to the packaging and transportation, then finally any food that’s thrown out. Throughout this process, only the packaging is visible to consumers and that’s why they mistakenly assume meal delivery kits are more wasteful than grocery stores. In truth, the invisible waste, which is represented by carbon emissions, is far more destructive.

Canadians waste a lot of food

An August 2019 study published in Resources, Conservation and Recycling showed that meal kits produce 33% less greenhouse gas than grocery shopping. While meal kits may have a higher packaging impact, where grocery shopping becomes problematic is the amount of food that’s thrown out.

As a country, Canada throws out about 60% of the food it produces. No, that’s not a typo. More than half the food we produce goes to waste and it’s estimated that approximately 32% of that waste is avoidable. Grocery stores play a big role in this waste. Overstocking and tossing out food with expired best-before dates are the main contributors.

Consumers aren’t doing much better. We tend to buy more food than we can eat and end up disposing up to 40% of food purchased at grocery stores. These numbers are pretty ridiculous. It’s also why meal kits are so much better for the environment. The food is measured out precisely for the amount of people it is meant to serve. Because the food waste is so much lower with meal kits, the overall environmental impact is far less harsh than shopping at your local grocer.

Read more: Do meal delivery kits save Canadians money?

Grocery stores partnering with meal delivery

It’s great that meal kit subscriptions are doing a decent job in cutting back its carbon footprint, but they also need to make a profit. Some meal delivery services are partnering with grocery stores. It gives consumers the option to better choose the precise meals they want often at a lower cost. The Kroger acquisition of Home Chef is one example. It’s also a win for the environment because, theoretically, consumers won’t be throwing out as much food.

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