What a Waste?

Meal kits fail to deliver on 100% recyclable guarantee

This is part one of Katherine Bell’s review of meal kits for Salty. Next month, she’ll compare flavours.

Pre-planned menus, prepared fresh ingredients, and easy-to-follow recipes shipped right to your door for less than a meal at a restaurant. For many busy Islanders, the allure of meal kits is clear and when companies advertise the full recyclability of their packaging and the local ingredients, they seem like a great option environmentally and nutritionally.

To examine these claims Salty reached out to nine Canadian meal kit companies. Only three of the nine deliver to Prince Edward Island—HelloFresh, Miss Fresh, and Chef’s Plate. All three companies initially agreed to participate in the article, but only Chef’s Plate and HelloFresh provided meal kits for trial and interviews. Prior to publication, Salty learned that Good Eats also delivers to PEI, but was unable to include them in this assessment due to time constraints.

HelloFresh, a company headquartered in Germany with a Toronto office since 2016,* has been delivering to PEI since January 2017. “Canada is still a new market for us overall, so we see growth overall. We’re excited to be in the Maritimes,” said Ian Brooks, managing director of HelloFresh in Canada. Chef’s Plate, a Canadian company founded in 2014, began delivering meal kits to PEI in the summer of 2017.

HelloFresh-recycling – photo credit: Katherine Bell

HelloFresh Waste – photo credit: Katherine Bell

Both companies have had to contend with the most common arguments against shipped meal kits: the absence of local ingredients, and the energy/material waste that results from their packaging and shipping processes.

Daniel Henderson, vice president of culinary and strategic sourcing at Chef’s Plate, refutes this. “It’s about getting whole food back into the Canadian kitchen. It starts by buying Canadian first. [Most produce] is fresh to our facility within 24 hours of being picked. Literally within 48 hours it’s within the home of our customers. We work with farmers and we commit by buying a crop or a portion of a crop that they have grown.” Distribution centres in southern Ontario and British Columbia, two of Canada’s most fertile farming areas, allows this quick farm-to-table transit. Chef’s Plate also relies on suppliers from coast to coast, including Hometown Pork and the Little Potato Company on PEI.

Chef’s Plate-recyclable items – photo credit: Katherine Bell

Chef’s Plate trash – photo credit: Katherine Bell

HelloFresh, on the other hand, does not use any PEI products in the meal kits. “We’ve been in discussion with, and on ongoing discussions with [producers across Canada]. Fresh food is a complicated business in Canada. The vast majority of produce is grown outside of Canada but whenever we can, we source locally,” said Brooks.

The companies both suggest that the decreased food waste from their meal kits offsets the packaging and energy used in transport. “[HelloFresh] doesn’t ship you more than you need. We ship you what is appropriate to be satisfied. We buy only what we need. We don’t create a lot of waste on our end,” Brooks said. Henderson said, “At Chef’s Plate, we have a just-in-time buying model so I am literally buying only the amount of food that I am needing for orders this week. Literally no food waste in our processing.” Brooks also noted that households can waste up to 47 percent of the food they purchase and the meal kits help reduce this waste.*

Chef’s Plate and HelloFresh both indicate that their meal kit is recyclable. “It’s something we are very focused on. The consumer at home can feel confident that they can recycle,” said Henderson. “With curbside recycling, it is effectively a closed loop for the vast majority of the packaging,” said Brooks. HelloFresh boasts of an ice pack return policy, but Brooks admits it is better to reuse the packs when possible, “The carbon footprint from bringing them back from PEI is not the greatest.”

Salty took the solid waste from both companies’ meal kits to Island Waste Management Corporation’s Waste Watch Drop-Off Centre in Wellington. Very little of the packaging from either company was recyclable, and almost none compostable. The corrugated cardboard of the outer box and insulation within the box was recyclable once a thin foil layer was removed. This was relatively easy for both companies’ boxes. The large bags Chef’s Plate uses to divide their meal kits are theoretically compostable if the plastic liner is removed. Salty attempted this, taking over five minutes to strip the plastic from one third of a bag.

Some packaging items were reusable with a bit of customer effort. Chef’s Plate uses re-sealable plastic bags and containers that could be reused after being cleaned.

All of HelloFresh’s bags were single use, including a craft paper bag for rice that was plasticized. None were recyclable here on PEI.


* Corrections: HelloFresh’s Toronto office was established in 2016, not 2011.

An earlier version of this article was unclear when quoting Daniel Henderson of Chef’s Plate. This has been updated to properly attribute the quote and to attribute the statement following the quote to Ian Brooks of HelloFresh.