Meal kit delivery companies eliminate the weekly rush to the grocery store, making meal preparation easier than ever, but are they good for the environment? While some may dismiss these services as being wasteful, a new study reveals that they are actually more eco-friendly than you might think.

Researchers compared ingredients commonly used in meal kit deliveries to their grocery store counterparts and found they have a much smaller carbon footprint. According to NPR, meals prepared with ingredients purchased from local grocery stores create around 33 percent more emissions than a meal that comes delivered to your doorstep.

“Folks are really focused on the plastics and packaging in meal kits,” University of Michigan’s Shellie Miller explained. “That’s important, but it’s not the full story.”

Related: 5 simple ways to reduce your food waste right now

Overall, food production makes up around 19 to 29 percent of harmful emissions every year. Plastics are used to keep food preserved, but they actually contribute less to carbon emissions than the production process itself. A good majority of the carbon footprint is related to food waste, a category in which meal kits excel at minimizing. The biggest question, of course, is whether or not the carbon savings offset the plastic use.

In the new study, which was published in the peer-reviewed journal, Resources, Conservation and Recycling, researchers subscribed to a meal kit delivery service and purchased the same ingredients they received at a local grocery store. They discovered that they used all of the food provided in the meal kit, producing next to no waste. They were forced to buy larger quantities from the store for each meal, resulting in much larger amounts of food waste, even after accounting for leftovers.

While meal kits produce less food waste, they do come with a number of concerns. Plastic waste, mostly from packaging, is one of the biggest issues. It is also difficult to determine how much pollution and energy goes into the shipping process, though most meal kits are sent without using specialty resources. On the whole, researchers hope that the study encourages people to look into where they get their food and consider environmental impacts.

pasta with cheese and tomatoes on a plate

Which meal kit services are the best, both in terms of the environment and your budget?

There are many meal kit options on the market, each with its own pros and cons. Here are some of the most common services.

Sun Basket

Sun Basket promises quality in its ingredients over anything else. All of the produce you receive is organic while the meats are free of harmful antibiotics and hormones. You can also select a wide variety of meals based on your diet. For example, Sun Basket offers plans for vegan, paleo, pescatarian and vegetarian diets.

Sun Basket offers a two-person plan at $72 a week or a four-person kit for $88. The company delivers all across the United Stations, except for Hawaii, Montana, Alaska and portions of New Mexico.

Blue Apron

Blue Apron is one of the most popular meal kit delivery services in the country. The company ships you a box every week with fresh ingredients, all of them pre-measured for specific dishes. The company does have a vegetarian option, and its plans start at $56 a month, making it one of the more affordable services out there.

Blue Apron delivers all across the contiguous United States, and you can always skip or pause your subscription as needed.

Home Chef

Home Chef offers a variety of dishes that cater to your every need. You can pick from a dozen different meals and tailor them to fit any dietary restrictions. This includes avoiding nuts, soy, dairy, meats and wheat. The company’s website also features some DIY cooking instructions, which are a great resource if you are not accustomed to cooking at home.

When it comes to cost, Home Chef comes in at around $10 a serving. If you pick a plan above $45 a month, then shipping is free. Home Chef delivers nationwide.

HelloFresh

HelloFresh is another popular meal kit. The company ships you pre-measured ingredients every week, complete with easy-to-follow recipes. You can choose between three weekly options that feed anywhere between two and four people. There are also vegetarian plans that feature three different recipes each week.

HelloFresh delivers across the nation and only uses recyclable packaging in the shipping process. Plans with HelloFresh run around $9 a serving for two people and $7 for a family.

Gobble

Gobble works very similar to Blue Apron in that it does all the meal prep for you — marinating, cutting, peeling — so that you can have a home-cooked meal is around 15 minutes. This is a great service if you have a large family and not enough time to fully prepare meals every day. Like the other companies on this list, Gobble offers a variety of dietary options, including gluten-free, low carb, vegetarian and dairy-free.

Gobble’s prices are a little steeper at $71 a week, though its family deals are better. This meal kit delivery service is available across the nation and even comes with a breakfast plan.

Via NPR

Images via Pixabay (1, 2)