The Dish on Meal Kit Companies: Packaging

I have been watching the meal kit company space develop with great interest over the last year or two. I’ve overheard people talking about how convenient it is, and how there is no waste, and how it all seems too good to be true. And it is. Not only do meal kits take all the spontaneity out of cooking, but they fly in the face of all ethics we value and cherish.

In this post, we are going to tackle the environmental impact of all the single use, single serve plastic used in portioned meal kit servings. Here is a sample of what one delivery from a popular meal kit company, Blue Apron, will bring in terms of waste: plastic-use

At a time when we are waking up and realizing the enormous impact  of ‘single use’ plastics on our environment, meal kit companies are making the problem far, far worse. Fact: every piece of plastic ever made still exists in the world today.  Biodegradable plastics are still not the answer, they are made by adding metals to the plastic, causing oxidation, which breaks the bags down into pieces. These metals leach into the immediate environment, and the pieces of plastic still persist, they are just smaller, harder to clean up, and if anything, more dangerous.

300 Million tons of plastic is produced every year, only 10% of it is recycled, and of that 10%, we, the U.S., are sending container loads (an estimated 6.6 million tons) of it to China to be re-processed. Think about the carbon footprint of that little statistic for a moment. In addition, it’s hard to know exact numbers, but recycling aside our best guess is that more than 8 million metric tons of plastic are dumped into our seas every year.

When plastic is recycled, it is often down-cycled. Bottles don’t turn back into more bottles, they turn into flip flops, and textiles for clothing and blankets, for example. And what of contaminants found in some plastics? Harmful chemicals we are only now learning can be endocrine disrupters? They too leach into the environment. One way we see this is when bits of plastic are eaten by fish, these endocrine disrupters are absorbed by the fish, and we eat the fish. The endocrine disrupters stay in the environment, like the plastic, they don’t disappear.

Now consider that just ONE meal kit company, the same one featured above, ships more than 8 million meals PER MONTH. That’s tens of thousands of these (and this is just one of six major meal kit companies operating in the US):

platic-waste

By comparison, this is what somebody cooking from a South Shore Organics delivery, or a CSA share, or a trip to the farmers market is likely to be left with for waste:

img_3872

No matter which way you cut the cake, the truth is, we desperately, desperately need to cut back on the amount of plastic we are using. We MOST DEFINITELY need to cut back on how much ‘single use’ plastic we are using. And although some meal kit companies will take the packaging back after a few deliveries, once you have emptied, rinsed, and compacted it, they are not cleaning it for reuse. They are not allowed to. They are discarding and recycling it, allowing it to be turned into something else, and they are buying new plastic bags for their next delivery.

In terms of plastic use, meal kit companies have one of the worst environmental impacts of all food systems. That’s a hard fact to swallow, just ask the fish, seals, and albatross’s to name a few.

Sources:

“The Trashy Consequencies of Meal Kit Companies” By Ellen Cushing for Buzzfeed, November 2015
“Dear Blue Apron, You are Making it Worse” By Nathaniel Johnson, August 2014
“The Truth About Recycling” The 5Gyres Institute
World Economic Forum, “The New Plastics Economy, Rethinking the Future of Plastics” WEF
Brad Plumer, “China Doesn’t Even Want to Buy Our Garbage Anymore” The Washington Post

 

Advertisements

Loin Cloths and Fig Leaves – Part II

If you read Part I, you will know that the disposable nature of clothing is wreaking havoc on our environment, especially since most of it is made from manufactured fabrics using petrochemicals that don’t biodegrade. On the procurement end, here is what you can do:

  1. Buy clothes made from natural materials. These would be cottons and fibers (wool and hair). You can also buy clothes made from plant fibers, the fabric is called ‘Rayon’, but Rayon is only marginally better than polyesters and the like, because of the extensive processing using harmful chemicals that turns plants like bamboo into  fabric.
  2. Buy classics, accessorize with fashion. This ensures you wear all of your clothes for longer.

But what is to be done once you have finished with an item and want to discard it? Here are some green methods to reuse and recycle your wardrobe (and they don’t require sewing or the skill set of a seamstress).

Recycle – donate your clothes at one of the many ‘recycling’ bins around town. This has become somewhat controversial, since many of these companies actually make a profit from reselling your clothes, or turning them into rags or other recycled fabrics. Why shouldn’t you be the one to make money then? You can. Read the next point. I personally don’t have a problem if they make a dollar on my donation, I just don’t want it ending up in landfill.

Re-sell – if you have something that is good quality and good shape, post it on eBay, leave it at a consignment store, or have a fashonista yard sale. The ultimate green thing to do is to extend use.  This idea is particularly useful for Halloween costumes your children will only ever wear once, ballet recital clothes, things that you have grown out of, or those ‘what was I thinking’ purchases.

Re-purpose your clothes, find other uses for them! Here are some super cool ideas!

There are THOUSANDS of ideas out there. You never need throw a t-shirt away again!

baby-clothes