Apparently, Meal Kits Are Better for the Environment

Inside Refrigerator

Food production, across the world, has a massive carbon footprint.  In fact, one study estimates that food production could be responsible for as much as 30 percent of global annual greenhouse gas emissions. This, of course, comes from factories that make processed foods but livestock—and especially cows—are also responsible for these greenhouse gas emissions.  

However, the carbon footprint that comes from food production is not just about the food itself, but also involves the making of the packaging and how much waste that produces too. As you may be aware, plastic is often used as packaging to help keep foods fresher for longer. But you also have to consider everything like farm equipment, fertilizer production, and even the processes involved with distributing food across the planet. 

As such, a new study has investigated potential changes we could make to reduce this carbon footprint and study leader Shelie Miller says that meal kits might actually be a reasonable alternative. 

The environmental scientist at the University of Michigan argues, “Folks are really focused on the plastics and packaging in meal kits.  That’s important, but it’s not the full story.” 

Indeed, lead study author Brent Heard advises, “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.”

A PhD candidate at the University of Michigan, Heard concludes, “What really ends up mattering is the quantity of food wasted throughout the supply.”

Of course, a substantial percentage of our food’s carbon footprint is waste: not just farm and factory waste, but how much we throw away. A recent report from the United Nations indicates, for example, food waste alone could be considered as much of a polluter as the entire US and China, if it were a country.  Actually, a USDA study from 2010 estimates that more than 30 percent of the food produced in the US goes to waste (10 percent at the retail level and at least 20 percent at the consumer level).

At the end of the day, then, the study confides that meal kits actually have lower “last mile” emissions than traditional food distribution models.  Essentially, meal kits are delivered on trucks that are already out making other deliveries, so they do not add new emissions to the footprint.  

You can find the results of this study in the journal Resources, Conservation, and Recycling.