Breaking It Down with First Mile
At decent packaging, we strongly believe in focusing on the end of life for all our products, just as much as the fit for purpose design for our customers. Because, unfortunately, we’re in a global waste crisis. Despite everyone’s best efforts, most plastics are not recycled, landfills are full of food waste, and inconsistencies in waste management infrastructure is causing major confusion.
We see this waste crisis as a multi-faceted problem that requires a multi-faceted solution, compostable packaging is just one part of that solution, and if we all collaborate, we can succeed. Luckily, we’ve already got some local legends paving the way in commercial composting.
We caught up with First Mile founder Bruce Bratley who has been Breaking It Down since 2004 with the mission to revolutionise business sustainability, starting with waste and recycling.
Read, share and support their journey, because increased knowledge and understanding of waste streams will empower people to drive change with their local communities and perhaps build local composting facilities of their own so that we can all get organic waste out of landfills.
Hello Bruce! Here’s an easy question to begin with, how do you start each day?
Lots of black coffee and I do most of my social posting at this time. I am super productive in the morning so try to get loads done.
As the founder of First Mile, can you tell us what exactly it is that you do?
I get to lead an incredible team of super-talented people every day. I work on a future strategy to create value in natural and financial capital.
What's the hardest or most challenging part of running First Mile?
Waste by its very nature is not measured and a key challenge is getting data on waste volumes, recycling levels, contamination and customer behaviours. The sector is also moving quickly which sometimes makes it difficult to measure success.
What's the most rewarding part of First Mile?
The passion our team and our customers have for acting on climate change and making a positive impact.
What does an average day or week look like in the life of First Mile?
I never have an average week, they are all above average.
How many cafes and businesses do First Mile compost packaging from?
It’s in the high hundreds and we work with chains and many many indies.
Are there any big barriers to composting on the scale you do that would make it hard for other individuals or community organisations to do what you do?
Compostable packaging needs to go through the right process before it is composted otherwise it is removed with non-compostable packaging and incinerated, so there are a lot of challenges. Equally, most compostable packaging is not suitable for uncontrolled home composting.
Have you seen much change in the public interest in composting since you started?
There’s been a massive amount of interest in compostable packaging since Blue Planet highlighted the problem of plastics persisting in the environment. Most of our customers are asking about compostable now and 3 years ago it was barely mentioned.
If you could give a few tips to people trying their hand at composting food scraps and packaging at home, what would it be?
Make sure the composting is suitable for home composting. The main tip for home composting is to make sure you have the conditions for aerobic digestion (plenty of airflow and regular turning of the compost). If you don’t you’ll end up with anaerobic digestion, which produces methane and your home compost will be like a mini landfill site contributing to global warming. Methane is 30 times more potent than CO2 as a greenhouse gas.
What does the future look like for First Mile, and for composting/waste in general?
First Mile’s future looks great and we have lots of new exciting things to launch later this year. Composting has a great future, but we need to make sure it is used appropriately and with the right recycling and disposal facilities in place.
Any parting words of wisdom or advice for eco-conscious people and communities?
We have so much to do to overcome the climate emergency and it is going to be messy. The key thing is to keep making progress with habit changes and habits change when small actions are remembered and become hard-wired. If you are eco-conscious you are doing more than most, so don’t expect everyone to maintain your standards today. Try to get others to make a small change that becomes habitual and sticks, not something that happens once and then old behaviour reverts. We’ve got into this mess with billions of people making billions of bad decisions (bad habits), we need to get out of it with billions of people making billions of good decisions (habits).
At decent, our packaging is certified compostable, meaning it has been tested and is guaranteed to fully break down back into organic matter. Our bagasse range is certified home compostable to the TUV Okay Compost home compostability standard, while the rest of our range is certified to international standards EN13432 or D6400/D6868 which means it is certified to compost fully within 12 weeks at a commercial compost plant.
The key reason some of our range needs to be commercially composted is because of PLA, the corn-derived bioplastic that some of our products are made from or lined with requires 60-degree heat to start breaking down.
This means your decent packaging bagasse dish with the mung beans that you’ve eaten around can all go to the same place. No separating, no cleaning and no rinsing, just all in one compost bin.
We've partnered with The First Mile in London to roll out a network of bins across London collecting both food waste and compostable packaging. With the aim to make this a nationwide service for all businesses and encourage customers to dispose of packaging and food waste in the correct bin.
Compostable packaging can easily be collected and composted by The First Mile throughout London to be integrated into the organic waste system and in turn, producing nutrient-rich fertiliser from the composting process.
First Mile collects and composts everything from decent cups and cutlery to decent takeaway lunch boxes. The packaging is put into an autoclave which is similar to a very high-temperature pressure cooker. This process expedites the breaking down of the compostable packaging materials, and then these materials go through the standard Anaerobic Digestion process (usually used for food), which produces fertiliser, and the methane produced during the decomposition process is burned to produce green energy.
Our Full Package Bins are available to anyone within London, with over 20 cafes set up already. This is the first compostable collection network of its kind in London, collecting both food and compostable packaging waste.
To arrange a collection with First Mile email firstname.lastname@example.org and quote The Full Package project.