Unpacking the sustainability of Meal Kit Delivery : a comparative analysis of energy use, carbon emissions, and related costs for Meal Kit services and grocery stores
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According to the EPA, food waste represents the largest single share of landfilled municipal solid waste in the United States, followed closely by plastics and paper products (EPA, 2016). These materials are a staple of the food distribution industry. Their use, recycling, and disposal all contribute to energy waste and carbon emissions. Meal Kit Delivery (MK) services claim to play a role in reducing food waste by delivering pre-portioned ingredients for home-cooked meals to residential customers, who then use recipe cards to prepare meals in their own homes (Peters, 2016). However, smaller food portions and direct-to-door delivery may increase the overall packaging used per meal, and other components of the supply chain may also impact the environmental footprint of MK services. This study seeks to quantify the differences in energy use and emissions—and their related costs— between MK services and traditional grocery stores. An average MK service meal is compared to a meal prepared using the same ingredients purchased from a grocery outlet. Energy use and emissions are evaluated in five categories: building, last mile transportation, product packaging, food waste, and end of life material management. The economic impact of each model is evaluated based on estimated energy and emissions costs. Each variable is quantified using a combination of meta-analysis, direct measurement, and probabilistic analysis. On average the MK service scenario used 20% less energy and generated 4% less emissions than the grocery-equivalent scenario. These savings amounted to an energy and emission cost savings of around 33%. In addition, MK services generated around 3.7 more pounds of packaging material per meal. These findings suggest that companies in both industries have opportunities to reduce environmental impacts and costs by improving the efficiency of their supply chains and developing creative solutions to address top energy use and emission sources.