For those who don’t know, Plated is a delivery service that you subscribe to, like Blue Apron (which I haven’t tried), that sends you recipes and ingredients to cook meals at home. I love the idea of having dynamic different meal ideas handed to me on a silver platter, along with all the necessary ingredients in one fell swoop – no grocery shopping! – so I randomly chose Plated from among the different service providers and gave it a whirl. The website was fairly easy to navigate. They asked me what my food preferences and taste preferences were. I actually wished they’d asked me more questions because my recommended menu contained food items I am allergic to but I was still gung ho. I selected my menu and was told the food items and recipe cards would be delivered on a Monday and could be cooked for dinner Monday or Tuesday.
SO MUCH PACKAGING AND WASTE!
True to their word, Plated delivered a box of recipe cards and ingredients to my doorstep, however, imagine my shock when I opened it to find thick plastic cushioning as long as a child sized human being wrapped around all of the produce and grains, each of which was in tiny, individual plastic bags. I’m talking a separate plastic bag for a single bay leaf. Yes, one single bay leaf. The amount of plastic bags was astounding. To give you an idea, the plastic bags from my delivery filled an entire 4 foot tall trash canister. There were also giant freezer packs. That would be ok if I could keep them and re-use them but they were so big they wouldn’t even fit in my freezer – at least, not if I wanted to have food in there, too. There were also about a million little plastic bottles, including several to hold just infinitesimal dollops of liquid seasonings. If I were to throw them away, I’d feel like a jerk. I was able to recycle them (unlike the plastic bags – read on for why not) but not without a maximum expenditure of effort, rinsing and drying each tiny bottle so the recycle people would take it. With all the time I spent rinsing and drying those little suckers, I could have just run to the corner store and bought myself the groceries or looked up a recipe on my own.
Plastic Bags Can’t be Recycled if Dirty or Wet
So what about those plastic bags? Why not recycle them? Not going to happen. The plastic bags were wet with condensation from the veggies within and had bits of food particles on them – making them pretty much impossible to recycle. Bags and wraps have to be clean and dry to be recycled, and collecting them in curbside bins with bottles and containers generally leaves them too dirty and wet to be recycled. See http://www.plasticsrecycling.org/faqs/plastic-film-recycling-faqs. Also, most frozen food or pre-washed salad bags may contain a barrier polymer or other additives that is not the polyethylene (#'s 2 and 4) plastic that recyclers want. These polymer barriers help protect the food and extend shelf life but recyclers consider them to be a contaminant in the recycling bin. See id.
The huge thick plastic mattress (I can’t think of another word to describe it) that wrapped everything in the box is definitely not recyclable.
It All Adds Up
If I used this service weekly (or more!) as suggested, the amount of waste I would create is astounding…and horrifying. I canceled my subscription immediately. I don’t mean to just pick at Plated; this is an issue endemic to the individual meal delivery type of service. All you have to do is Google: "Impact of landfill on the environment" and you’ll see the problem is a pretty big deal. To be fair, one writer really researched another provider, Blue Apron, and found, in some cases (like if you’re buying frozen food dinners), Blue Apron might not be as bad for the environment as those frozen dinners from the grocery store. See http://www.onearth.org/magazine/home-cooking-delivered-meals for really great and very fair (I thought) write up.
I’m taking a page from the online magazine I cite above and doing two things: I am going to use these delivery services but not as a subscriber. If I’m in need of a fresh new recipe idea and I’m in the doldrums about what to cook, I’ll go to their website and check out what’s on “today’s menu,” then I’ll take their idea without ordering their insane packaging (sorry, guys), walk not drive (no carbon footprint there) to my grocery store (yes, I know not everyone can do that but I’m lucky I can) and pick up the ingredients, trying to go local and organic and steering clear of excessive and unrecyclable packaging. It’s really not so bad. You can check out their menu idea at work and swing by the store on your way home. A lot of their stuff is intentionally simple so almost anyone can make it which makes commandeering the recipe that much easier. You actually don’t even need to steal recipes from the delivery service people. There are awesome ones all over the Internet. If I am feeling “savory” and “crunchy” foods, I’ll literally Google “savory and crunchy recipes without meat” and get a veritable smorgasbord of ideas, most of which are pretty easy and don’t require crazy shopping.
That’s my take on an ethical and beautiful dinner. ;)