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Can online groceries save the planet?

A new study says deliveries could cut carbon monoxide emissions by 50% or more. But that's not the only reason to order in.

By Donna_Freedman May 15, 2013 10:11AM
Hate to go food shopping? Bring the supermarket to you by having groceries delivered. You could actually save money doing this, despite paying a delivery fee -- and you might even help save the Earth.

According to a study from the University of Washington, grocery deliveries can cut carbon monoxide emissions by 50% to as much as 90% versus individual consumers driving to the store.

"A lot of times people think they have to inconvenience themselves to be greener, and that actually isn’t the case here," said Anne Goodchild, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering.

Mind you, this is just one city model (Seattle). Brad Plumer of The Washington Post's Wonkblog notes "lots of caveats" in the study. For example, its authors didn't compare delivery to groceries bought via bus, on the way home from work, or on foot.

But there's no denying that delivery is a boon for shut-ins, crowd-shunners and, of course, the superbusy. "There are two luxuries I think every working mother should at least contemplate: someone (besides you) who regularly cleans your home, and groceries delivered to your door,"  writes OrganizedMom on the Mom to Mom blog


"The process takes much longer (with) two kids begging for whatever latest item their friend had in their lunchbox while climbing in and out of the cart."

Who delivers?

Home deliveries are available from mainstream grocers such as Safeway, Shop Rite, Wal-Mart and Albertsons, and from newcomers like Peapod, FreshDirect and AmazonFresh.

Some delivery is strictly regional. Peapod currently operates in a dozen states and the District of Columbia. A new service, Instacart, delivers only in the San Francisco Bay area.
Logo: Close-up of a person using a calculator in a supermarket (© George Doyle/Stockbyte/Getty Images)
Shoppers choose a time frame during which the goods will be dropped off; the delivery fee may be based in part on the window you choose. Depending on the store you might be able to use manufacturer coupons, change an order at the last minute or even chat with a personal shopper about the quality of that day's broccoli.

Fees vary widely, but usually range from about $4 to $17. Whether to add a tip depends on the company you use. For example, Safeway drivers are not allowed to accept gratuities.


Any fees at all could be hard to swallow if you're on a tight budget. Those who aren't might gladly pay to avoid this chore. When you're pressed for time, or when it's sleeting sideways or 98 degrees, having someone else do your shopping is a swell option.

But that's not the only reason to order online.

Buying only what you need

Ever splurged on a new protein bar or juice product after getting a free sample in the store? Bought a rotisserie chicken because it looked tastier than the leftover spaghetti waiting at home? Been so overwhelmed by the smells of fresh baked goods that you spent an extra $5 on cookies or artisan breads?

Those things don't happen when you fill out an online order form.

OrganizedMom creates a list of meals she'll cook that week and then checks her cupboards before doing her virtual grocery run. "I look at the (menu) ingredients and order exactly what I need and nothing more," she says, avoiding buying tomato paste when she already has half a dozen cans stashed.

Melissa Tosetti of The Savvy Life blog once helped a woman cut her food bill from $1,500 a month to $750 by advising her to make menus, read the ads -- and order the groceries. That's because the woman invariably overbought when she shopped in person.

Thus she cut her food bills almost in half despite paying $17 per delivery. "Compared to the hundreds of dollars she was wasting before, it's like night and day," Tosetti says.

Sure, you ought to be able to control your spending. You ought to be able to do a lot of things. Sometimes it's best just to go with what works for you, whether you do it to reduce your carbon footprint or the number of chocolate chip cookies in the pantry.

Do you have groceries delivered?

More on MSN Money:

May 16, 2013 12:37PM
Our local Hy-Vee charges $15 to deliver. I could buy a lot of extra produce for that money, and be sure it was nice too. No thanks.
May 16, 2013 10:20AM

skip this article's whole premis.  but buy thru online sites your canned goods, rice, juices, cleaning goods.  hit that level where there is free shipping.  get the basic staples delivered to your home.  THEN use the grocery store for fresh meats or veggies.


forget the "save the planet" concept.  simply save money.  the rest will take care of itself. 

Jan 21, 2014 4:14PM
Save the planet, no. Be a super convenient, yes! I think so many people would love to use this. How can I get an app for this?
Celine |
May 16, 2013 4:11AM

No, I do NOT do grocery delivery. 


Generally, I ONLY shop the perimeter (produce, meat, dairy, bakery) of any store.  there is NO WAY I am going to let some GED wannabe choose my produce or meat and since those are the biggest part of my spending, thank you but I will do it myself.


Also, I shop more than 1 store to get the BEST prices (preferably w/coupons/store loyalty deals).  However, these are within 1-2 miles of each other.  In fact, I have stopped shopping one of my natl chains since both stores on my routine travel route have been closed.

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