The pandemic has brought about a boom in people turning to meal delivery services.
It’s not hard to see why, considering they pretty much do the hard work for us – bringing tasty ingredients and recipes to our doors every week.
So, there’s no need to worry about trips to the shops or certain food shortages.
But one downside to these companies is the excess packaging that comes with them – something we’re more conscious of than ever, following the recent climate change headlines.
Danny, who regularly uses HelloFresh, thinks the meal delivery company does use a large amount of packaging.
‘Fortunately, most of the waste is recyclable,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Every meal produces a lot of plastic waste and each meal comes in a separate paper bag which, in turn, is recyclable afterwards. When I cook meals I tend to separate the waste, the excess food goes to the guinea pig, and the recycling goes in its bin.’
However, Danny believes HelloFresh could tackle this problem by ‘bundling different products together.’
He adds: ‘Cheese comes in 30g blocks but I find most of the time I need 60g or 120g. They could have a 120g block of cheese reducing the packing. Over four meals a week, that’s a good amount of plastic waste reduced.
‘This could be applied to a wide variety of ingredients and help reduce waste.’
Anastasia, who uses Gousto, says she’s seen a recent change from the brand.
She tells Metro.co.uk: ‘I noticed Gousto has cut down packaging recently and it has come down to the bare minimum. I think they are definitely doing a better job, as even their ice for the meats comes in recyclable paper.
‘I love that most of the big components, like the fresh/meat box is cardboard and that all the small cupboard bits come in recyclable paper bags.
‘Unfortunately, there is still some amount of plastic in the boxes. For example, for the oils or spices and the meat, but I believe this has been reduced down to the absolutely necessary. All of the paper packaging is definitely recyclable, I’m not sure all of the plastic is.
‘I don’t think they could cut it down even more, without making the experience less consumer-friendly.’
Beth, who has used Gousto and HelloFresh over the years, thinks more can be done from both brands.
‘It’s actually very frustrating because they both do different parts of the packaging in a better, more eco-friendly way,’ she says.
‘For example, the insulated section (to keep fresh items cold) in Gousto is made completely of cardboard. On the other hand, HelloFresh send some of their spices and toppings like nuts in sealed brown paper pouches, but this is nearly always plastic in Gousto boxes.’
‘I think both services could definitely make improvements. They could take a look at each other’s packaging options, because as I said before they’re each better at different parts of the process.’
Beth adds that in a household of three people, this can feel like an awful lot of waste packaging – especially with multiple meals.
‘It would be great if these services could cater better to an odd number of people,’ she adds.
‘Gousto only allows you to order for two or four people, which as a household of three is annoying. We order four and eat a bigger meal or save a portion for lunch, so there’s no food waste, but it would still be nice to be able to order for three.
‘HelloFresh does allow you to order for three, but some of their pre-packaged fresh ingredients, like spinach leaves, are catered to four people so we end up with surplus of certain ingredients.’
A recycling service could also be an alternative option to tackle these environmental issues, Beth stresses.
‘Some parts of the plastic packaging can be recycled, but only at kerbside recycling points,’ she continues.
‘As someone without a car this isn’t great, but I would save up this plastic and ship it back to them via the courier that drops off the meal box or even via Royal Mail. If they could do something like this and make it applicable to their wider packaging I think that would be really good.’
One company that does offer a returns system is allplants – however customers still think there are ways this could be improved.
Matt, who uses their service, says: ‘With the box you get insulation, which is made from recycled materials. They also encourage you to send that back via a free postage and packaging label, which comes with the delivery. So you pop the insulation back in the box and take it to your nearest shop to send back – and I’m guessing they reuse that, which is good.
‘I think they could give us incentives to send insulation back, because it is a bit of a faff, if I’m being honest,’ he adds.
‘I try and do it as much as I can, but you have to put the insulation back in the box, tape it up, put the label on then take it to your nearest drop off point – which might not be local for some people.
‘If they brought out some incentives for customers, such as £1 off your next delivery or points towards a discount, I think that would definitely make me to do it more.’
What are companies doing about the problem?
It’s clear customers think action needs to be taken – so what are the companies themselves doing to reduce excess packaging and waste?
We reached out to HelloFresh, Gousto and allplants to hear what they had to say…
A spokesperson for HelloFresh tells Metro.co.uk the company has a dedicated team that’s investigating new ways to develop sustainable solutions.
They explain: ‘In the UK we have implemented an in-house developed software tool which optimises the packaging of our meal kits by choosing smaller boxes, meal kit bags and cool pouches.
‘Since its introduction more than two years ago, this tool has helped us save approximately 650 tonnes of plastic from landfill and reduce the use of cardboard by over 160 tonnes. In the UK, as well as in other markets, we operate packaging labs in which we research new packaging solutions that will help us to reach our goal to avoid, reduce, and recycle.
‘We will continue to develop new solutions, which will help us to reduce the amount of packaging. That being said, packaging will always be essential to ensure transport protection, food safety and quality, as well as to help prevent food waste. In these cases HelloFresh is working on implementing certified recyclable materials for all essential packaging.’
An example of this, according to the brand, is the new paper packaging solution for the basmati, jasmine and risotto rice plus breadcrumbs – which is 100% recyclable in UK households.
A spokesperson for Gousto tells Metro.co.uk that the business is now a certified B Corporation – which means they have met the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose.
‘We achieved this in part by the ongoing work into reducing plastic packaging in our recipe boxes,’ they explain.
‘Last year, we cut plastic in our boxes by 50% by introducing more loose veg, cardboard punnets for vegetables like tomatoes, cardboard egg cartons, and reducing the size of our ingredient packs. Most significantly, we launched the Eco Chill Box – an innovative insulator made of recycled cardboard, that keeps ingredients fresh in our boxes. This alone enables us to save more than 74.5 tonnes of plastic from Gousto boxes each year.’
Gousto also adds that they remain focused on being more sustainable and continue to invest in this area, by exploring new materials, technologies, and processes – while working with suppliers to reduce plastic packaging.
Ellie Harrison, the sustainability lead at the company, stresses the business has come up with solutions to problematic materials, such as polystyrene.
She says: ‘For example, allplants harnesses recycled, post-industrial denim to supply insulation for our plant-based chef-made meals. This liner can be used 10 times over (at least) and helps us cut down on waste.
‘We also believe the real secret to sustainable packaging is not just recycling – it’s re-use. That’s why we ask customers to return packaging, so we can use it again and again. Our free packaging returns service means that we can extend the life of these materials even further. As it stands, we’ve had over 600,000 boxes returned to date, saving more than 200 million tonnes packaging waste.
‘We’re constantly adapting as we learn new ways to make our packaging as sustainable as possible. Whenever we find a more sustainable alternative, we make a change. As a result, we’ve had four packaging “evolutions” over the past 2.5 years.
‘And we intend for this to continue. As our packaging evolves further, we’ll be using data and technology to create smaller and more precisely matched boxes, which will reduce cardboard.
‘We’ll also be reducing our coolant usage by using real-time weather data and smaller dry ice packs. On top of this, we’ll continue to make our free packaging returns as simple and easy to use as possible.’
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