Can we make Menulog & co a little more sustainable?

TGL News

food delivery

Busy weeknights, lazy Sunday mornings, cheeky midnight snacks. There’s no doubt Australians love a conveniently available meal.

Nearly 10 per cent of us use one delivery service or another on a regular basis, and unsurprisingly that number rises if you’re below the millennial age bracket.

But from a sustainability perspective, what impact is this habit having on the environment?

If we look at the carbon footprint of jumping in the car, heading to the shops, buying our groceries and returning home to cook, you’d be forgiven for thinking home delivery on par with DIY cooking. Especially if your driver is riding a motor bike or bicycle, right?

And what of the middle ground? A recent study concluded that meal kit delivery services such as Hello Fresh and Marley Spoon, kilogram for kilogram create less carbon emissions than equivalent store bought meals.

This is because the pre-measured portions reduced food waste, and the streamlined, direct-to-consumer supply chain meant the overall transportation emissions was lower.

Then there was the packaging. As you might expect, the study found meal kits typically have higher packaging impacts than grocery meals. Each perfectly measured serving of herbs or meat has to be individually wrapped after all, creating more packaging waste than if you bought in bulk and stored the remainder for another time.

But Shelie Miller, an environmental scientist at the University of Michigan and leader of the study, said package waste was only one aspect.

“That’s important,” she said, “but it’s not the full story.”

Co-author of the study, Brent Heard, continued by saying that the picture looked different when you zoomed out and considered all waste across the whole life cycle.

“Packaging is a relatively small contributor to the overall environmental impacts of a meal,” he said. “What really ends up mattering is the quantity of food wasted throughout the supply chain.”

That might be hard for some people to believe however, especially for those of us who have ordered a takeaway noodle soup and experienced peeling away layers of plastic like a babushka doll.

Modern solutions to a modern problem

To combat issues such as excess plastic packaging and travelling emissions, a handful of new delivery services have created schemes to undo some of their impacts.

  • Australian delivery service Deliveroo, for example, has teamed up with reusable packaging company Returnr to offer meals in reusable bowls. Currently available at a few select restaurants throughout Melbourne, users have the option to receive their meals in a stainless steel bowl for an additional $6. Deliveroo and Returnr see this as a deposit that you can get back by returning your bowl to any of the participating restaurants.
  • Tackling the transport emissions issue, British online delivery service Just Eat has teamed up with electric scooter providers Esukta to offer a 45 per cent discount on electric scooters and green energy to registered drivers. Deliveroo also launched an electric scooter rental scheme for its drivers in London.
  • Other food delivery aggregators such as UberEats are piloting new schemes they say will “empower customers to make greener choices,” such as allowing users to opt out of receiving disposable straws, cutlery and utensils.

That is of course to say that none of these options is particularly sustainable compared with growing your own food, having your own compost and walking or cycling wherever possible.

Check out Dan the Man for some inspiration on zero waste cooking.