One of the biggest complaints to emerge about the burgeoning meal kit industry is the amount of packaging it takes to ship the ingredients for each recipe. There’s the cardboard and the ice packs, and then all the plastic bags, each holding just a few sprigs of lemongrass or thyme. Who hasn’t felt at least a bit guilty looking up at their pantry full of spices as they ripped open a tiny packet of paprika and dumped it into the frying pan?
Well now the plant-based meal kit company Purple Carrot is putting its money where its mouth is. Last week the Needham-based startup, which inked a sponsorship deal with Tom Brady in 2017, announced that it is switching over to 100 percent curbside recyclable packaging to help minimize its ecological footprint.
The kits will use ice packs that are environmentally disposable, boxes made from 95 percent post-consumer materials, and paper insulation that is compostable. And all of the packaging will also be optimized by season, facility location, and the time it takes to transport each box, in order to ensure that the ingredients will stay fresh.
“We’re incredibly proud of our leadership role in introducing new, environmentally-friendly packaging components for our meal kits,” said Andy Levitt, the company’s founder, in a statement. “Given the urgency of addressing the significant environmental issues we all face, we encourage other meal kit companies to invest in sustainable packaging solutions to help address this industry-wide issue."
The move is a smart one for the company, as many industry competitors are now stepping up with similar approaches: Terra’s Kitchen sends customers reusable plastic boxes, Sun Basket has recyclable packaging, and Hello Fresh users can now put nearly all of their packaging in the recycling bin.
And while meal kit companies argue that their pre-proportioned ingredient boxes cut down on food waste — which is another tremendous problem in the United States — some say that thoughtful meal planning can help reduce problems on both ends.
“Recyclable is an important step toward lower waste, although going through the recycling stream itself is reasonably energy intensive,” said William Masters, an economics professor at Tufts’ Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy. “Making something and then recycling it is not the same as never having needed it in the first place.”