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Product, Service & Design Innovation
Circular Solutions Edging Us Closer to a Zero-Waste Future for Convenience Food

Since day one, we have had a vision of eliminating all single-use packaging from the meal kit experience. We’ve heard time and time again about how individuals need to do more; but the reality is, businesses need to innovate to enable the solutions that consumers are increasingly demanding.

When myself and my childhood friends, Becky Brauer and Husein Rahemtulla, founded Vancouver-based meal kit company Fresh Prep in 2015, our mission was to create a sustainable solution to food preparation.

Increasingly, popular meal kit companies are changing the way people prepare meals around the world; but like so many others in the food industry, they are not immune to the widespread plastic packaging crisis. Unfortunately, the reality was (and still is) that the meal kit industry has a waste problem.

Unfortunately, food packaging comprises almost 30 percent of household waste and less than 10 percent of that waste gets recycled. Typically wrapping individual ingredients in multiple, tiny, single-use plastic packets and delivering kits in insulated cardboard boxes with non-recyclable plastic ice packs, meal kit companies in Canada, the US and around the Western world are among the culprits contributing to this wasteful food packaging problem.

We were determined not to add to the growing packaging problem and environmental strain that we had encountered in traditional meal kits — but rather, to provide a solution. We knew there had to be a better way: Our plan was to look beyond the current take-make-waste, extractive industrial model and adopt a circular approach; one that aims to redefine growth and keep all materials in use. Sustainability was the destination, and that journey started with packaging.

But it wasn’t as easy as we had hoped. One of our first experiments was using dollar-store coin envelopes for packages, but it wasn’t long before quinoa leaked out of the corners. Mason jars also seemed like an obvious choice at first; but we soon found our packaging sites overflowing with inventory, not to mention the cupboards of our customers, and they greatly increased the weight of the delivery. Not easily deterred, we continued to look for solutions. Recognizing that millions of people aiming towards zero waste imperfectly was better than a handful of people doing it perfectly, we came up with a temporary solution to diligently use plastic only on necessary items — but we never stopped working on our big idea: a zero-waste meal kit.

We hired a team of engineers and designers to make our vision a reality, and even managed to get B Corp-certified along the way for our commitment to transparency and sustainability.

Finally, after three years of research, development, engineering and investment to reduce barriers to sustainability in the meal kit industry, Fresh Prep launched its long-awaited Zero Waste Kit packaging solution in 2021. Composed of dishwasher-safe, BPA-free, reusable plastic and silicone; the containers are delivered in reusable, insulated cooler bags containing reusable ice packs.

Our existing delivery system, where we visit the doors of customers every week, allowed us to develop a circular system where our drivers conveniently return these containers for professional cleaning before reuse for future deliveries. We estimate that each Zero Waste Kit will save approximately 19 g of single-use plastic per meal. At scale, if all Fresh Prep customers regularly order Zero Waste Kits each week, we could divert 500 kg of soft plastic waste per week — that’s the same as the weight of a mini caravan!

Since day one, we have had a vision of eliminating all single-use packaging from the meal kit experience. Over the years, this has involved many different packaging iterations, as we experimented with multiple materials to store food conveniently and sustainably for customers. We put all this effort in because we believe that the onus to be sustainable should not fall on the consumer; businesses are now responsible for turning the tide on plastic waste.

There is a better way to do business. We’ve heard time and time again about how individuals need to do more; but the reality is, we need innovation and change from businesses to enable the solutions that consumers are increasingly demanding. It’s not about promising an unattainable vision or trying to offset your own emissions by making grand commitments, but offering practical solutions that provide an easier cooking experience and an accessible, sustainable solution for customers — without the added cost of time or money. Now is the time to shake up systems that have created wasteful practices and support new innovations that will be essential on our path to a more sustainable world.