Meal kits vs Grocery shopping: What’s the carbon deal?

Meal kits seem like an incredible waste of energy, with excess packaging and excess emissions from delivery. But then the pandemic hit and getting groceries delivered sometimes became either a necessity or a more fitting idea. But the thought of meal kits still seemed more wasteful, at least to some people, including think tank researchers. 

3 min read


Jordan Flagel

Sustainability & Environmental Specialist, certified GRI professional for sustainability reporting

In short, they really minimize food waste. Grocery stores, on the other hand, promote food waste by incentivizing bulk purchases.

It turns out, using meal kits actually generates 33% less CO2 emissions than grocery shopping for the equivalent amount of food. It might seem surprising on the surface, but if you unpack it the number seems reasonable.

Meal kits vs Grocery shopping – packaging

First of all, the packaging. Sure, most meal kits use a lot of packaging. It’s necessary for each thing to be packaged separately if you are not combining the ingredients until you cook in your home. This has led to some developing biodegradable and compostable packing for meals, which is good, but still carries a carbon footprint. The problem is, groceries are not much better, if better at all. Each item you buy in the grocery store comes in packaging. And while your tortillas may come in a pack of 30 instead of individually wrapped, that package is still separate from the other 49 things in your cart that are each packaged separately. Some produce sections in Europe even mandate that fruits and vegetables must be placed in plastic to be weighed, which is not a good thing.

So, with waste not being quite as big a differentiator as you might initially think, it begins to make more sense how this 33% number could be true. However, you need not look any further than the impact of food waste to see why meal kits are so much less carbon-intensive than the average person’s trip to the grocery store. Meal kits provide you with the ingredients for your meal and no more. They give you the exact amount, with no extras and rarely any leftovers.

In short, they really minimize food waste. Grocery stores, on the other hand, promote food waste by incentivizing bulk purchases. Our brains are wired to make choices based on value, and when we can get deals on one of the most basic of needs – food – we tend to take them. This would be great back when most human beings did not have food security, or in current areas of the world where people are not able to afford the proper amount of food that they need, but, unfortunately, it is happening in almost all parts of the world and leading to gigantic amounts of waste. How much waste? According to the FAO, global food loss and waste generate annually 4.4 GtCO2 equivalent, or about 8% of total anthropogenic GHG emissions! This means that the contribution of food wastage emissions is nearly 90% as high as global road transport emissions on a yearly basis.

This is why meal kits emit less on average than what the typical person buys at the grocery store.

Click here to learn more about how TerGo can help lower your emissions from your trips to the store.