Meal kits are full of wasteful packaging—but they might still beat the grocery store

Popular Science | 4/22/2019 | Staff
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In the study, researchers Brent Heard and Shelie Miller, along with undergraduate colleagues, received five Blue Apron meals for two: cheeseburgers, salmon, chicken, pasta, and salad. Then, they went to the grocery store and bought all the ingredients to make those meals again.

“We took kitchen scales and weighed the food and the packaging,” says Heard. Then, they did the same with all the stuff bought at the grocery store. Of course, at a grocery store, hamburger buns aren’t sold in packs of two, but packs of six. The same idea extends to other ingredients. To compensate for this difference, the study assumed that some of those buns and other unused ingredients would go to waste, in line with estimates about different kinds of food waste from other peer-reviewed sources.

Researchers - Metrics - Impact - Meal - Packaging

The researchers employed several common metrics to estimate the impact of each meal and the packaging its components came in: greenhouse gas emissions from the field to the landfill (known as comparative lifecycle assessment) along with the same for land and water use, as well as water pollution. With the exception of one meal (the salmon), all were significantly lower impact than the same meal from the grocery store.

The difference in food waste was a big factor, Miller says. “When people were talking about meal kits, they focused a lot on the plastics and the packaging that were generated,” she says, “but they weren’t really focusing on the whole lifecycle.” In her previous studies of meal kits, she says, many people expressed a lot of guilt over the packaging, which usually includes plastic cold-packs and insulation to keep food fresh. It’s true that meal kits have significantly more of this single-use stuff, Miller says, but there’s a substantial tradeoff in terms of food waste and the amount of energy expended in getting...
(Excerpt) Read more at: Popular Science
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