Despite arriving on your doorstep enclosed in plastic and cardboard, meal kits are generally better for the environment than a meal cooked at home with ingredients from a grocery store. In fact, store meals on average produce 33% more greenhouse gas emissions than meal kits bought from the likes of Blue Apron, according to environmental scientists at the University of Michigan, who considered emissions for food's journey "from farm to garbage can," as NPR puts it. It turns out the garbage can is key. While meal kits produce 0.17 kg more carbon dioxide than store meals through packaging, per Gizmodo, researcher Brent Heard tells NPR this "is a relatively small contributor to the overall environmental impacts of a meal. What really ends up mattering is the quantity of food wasted throughout the supply chain."
Researchers reached that conclusion after asking students to assemble two-person meal kits while making the same meals with ingredients purchased from a store. Finding only the store meals resulted in unused ingredients, researchers then estimated how much might be wasted based on consumer habits. Study author Shelie Miller ultimately found "that extra chicken breast bought from the grocery store that gets freezer-burned and finally gets thrown out is much worse" for the environment than a pile of cardboard, considering what it took to produce, per NPR. Meal kits also had lower emissions through distribution, with direct-to-consumer supply chains utilizing normal mail routes. Stores, on the other hand, generally end up with more food than can be used, according to the study. Per Time, Blue Apron provided some data but was otherwise uninvolved. (Chick-fil-A recently got in the meal kit game.)