Meal Kit Delivery Services: Are They Worth the Waste?

First and foremost, thank you for the opportunity to present our educational blog post. We’re thrilled about getting more people, businesses, and local governments all over the world more involved in the conversation of Zero Waste and the Circular Economy!

This week’s blog edition will address the meal kit delivery services industry, a new subscription-based business model where companies bring you pre-portioned, prepared meals or the raw ingredients ready to be prepared in your own kitchen.

While there are many services that consumers can tap in to on this comparison list, we decided to highlight some Meal Kit services that can not only fit most people’s budgets, but also offer aspects of social and corporate responsibility:

Blue Apron— Blue Apron has two plans: a 2-person and a 4-person subscription, both with 3 meals per week. The 2-person plan is $59.94 per week ($9.99 per person) while the family plan is $139.84 per week ($8.74 per person). The membership model allows the company to predict orders so they can utilize whole crops and eliminate wastes by growing only what’s needed.

Lettuce—A company servicing the Austin area that uses plots of land donated by residents, businesses, or local governments for organic food production. Delivers in reusable, plastic containers and takes back food scraps for composting. The cost for Lettuce ranges from about $35 - $79/week for 3 meals, at 4 servings each (Price per serving: $6.58).

Thrive Market—Uses a membership pool to increase purchasing power through direct buying, cutting out retail markups. Each membership supports the subscription for a low-income family to receive healthy foods and less toxic products, like cleaners, bath and beauty products, and baby foods. Thrive Market is around $59.95 per week.

HelloFresh-- Their delivery service also helps reduces carbon emissions. Each delivery van can deliver food bags to around 50 customers a week and optimize the route to make sure each vehicle travels the shortest distance. HelloFresh costs a bit more than the others, again with 2-person and 4-person subscription option. The 2-person plan is $69 per week ($11.50 per person) and the family plan is $129 per week ($10.75 per person). Plated prices are based on the number of plates ordered.

Meal kits have much to offer when it comes to health needs and convenience. For example, options such as catering your diet to address health ailments or weight loss goals can be included in deciding if meal kits are right for you and your family. Not to mention, relieving you from the stress that comes with going to the grocery store, like loading up the kids, battling traffic, finding a parking spot, waiting in line, paying retail prices, etc.

There are many ways to look at the various pros and cons with each of these services but we are here to focus on the planet and the environmental side effects that come with this type of delivery service that should be considered.

The waste produced by meal kits services is no match to the waste produced by grocery shopping, but it should not be overlooked. If you think about the supply chain with meal delivery services, the amount of cardboard and plastic packaging is tremendous: the plastic wrapping used to keep the actual ingredients fresh, the cardboard box with the company logo that all the ingredients are packed in, and the larger box holding all of the smaller boxes of product to minimize damage through transportation.

One of the biggest issues is not the amount of cardboard that is produced, but what happens to that cardboard afterwards. Currently there seems to be no responsibility from these types of companies to provide a recycling service or solution for their customers. It is expected that subscribers to these programs deal with the company’s wastes in their own municipal recycling bin or, if that person doesn’t have local recycling services, throwing the materials into their own landfill trash bin.

Each scenario increases the cost to that residential taxpayer in waste services if an additional pickup may be needed because of this unexpected excess waste. Not only that, we have all seen the massive increases in waste materials produced by companies like Amazon and other delivery services. Both businesses and residents can benefit when solutions to wastes are addressed, such as:

●     Creating local jobs and supporting the tax base through recycling and reuse

●     Extending the life of currently established landfills

●     Conserving natural resources for future generations

●     Mitigating climate impacts

●     Corporate accountability to culture change

Wouldn’t it be great if meal kit services employed reusable containers that could be exchanged upon delivery and where the company has a take-back program focused on reusing the empty ones for other orders? When do consumers start to speak up on these operational inefficiencies?

For that to happen consumers must start leveraging the power of their dollar and loyalty to demand better practices and work towards a mutually beneficial solution. This can be done by submitting a comment on the company’s social media pages, writing to the company via snail mail, calling to speak with the customer service department, writing a Letter to the Editor in the local newspaper, etc.

The bottom line is that nothing will be done until we begin asking more questions. It starts right here with you by speaking up and continuing the conversation.

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