Returning to The London Coffee Festival as our official packaging and sustainability partner for 2020, we caught up with decent packaging's founder and managing director Tony Small to talk all things compostable.
Hey Tony! Can you catch us up with a brief history of decent? Where did the idea come from and how has it developed across the past couple of years?
decent packaging has sprung from the antipodes of New Zealand, where over the past six years, just like our products, we've worked from the ground up.
Years ago I was working on yachts in France and on a day off was reading about how much plastic was ending up in our oceans. My mind was blown to learn that if we don’t change our ways by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in our oceans.
When you decided to start creating plant-based products and packaging, what was the first step? I imagine the reality of researching and developing this were at least initially a lot more complicated than the idea...
We started by focusing on producing one product, the coffee cup, and replacing the oil-based lining with a plant-based lining. It took about six months to find a partner who could help us produce this. After the coffee cup we expanded our range producing everything from plates, clear cups, napkins, cutlery, bowls, burger clams to toilet paper using everything from sugarcane waste (bagasse) to bamboo and plant starch (PLA).
You’ve talked about creating products that you can ‘un-make’; what do you mean by this exactly?
It all starts with the challenge. If you take a generic coffee cup and lid, the cup is made from paper, lined with PE plastic, and the lid is normally made from PS which is a different type of plastic. That gives you three materials which all require a different waste stream to be recycled. One of the main reasons these haven’t been recycled is the time and resource it takes to separate those three materials. If you did separate them there’s very little value in those materials hence only 5% of plastics have been recycled since 1964.
Compare that to a decent cup and lid which is made from paper, lined with plant starch and the lid is also made from plant starch (CPLA). There’s no need to separate the three materials as all three are made from plants, and they can be disposed of in a commercial compost bin. Once in a compost our cups and lids will breakdown into carbon, nitrogen and organic matter within 12 weeks.
We recently partnered with first mile in London to offer a compostable packaging collection service. In December our customers collectively diverted two tons of packaging waste away from landfill which was collected by first mile and composted.
In your eyes, what’s the most effective way to battle waste?
Unfortunately we’ve all had the wool pulled over our eyes when it comes to recycling plastic. Since 1964 plastic production has increased twentyfold yet just 5% of plastics are recycled effectively.
We believe the solution lies in using by-products like bagasse (waste from sugarcane production) or plant materials like PLA, which tie into a circular economy. By using plant materials we’re able to reduce our carbon footprint in manufacturing while composting our packaging waste.
Does it ever feel like an uphill battle? In spite of your efforts there must be times when you’re putting faith in other people and organisations who might not return the trust or have the correct, practical infrastructures in place.
At times it can feel like an uphill battle. Compostable packaging has been in the market for a few years now and some people/companies are feeling frustrated that there isn’t more infrastructure to dispose of it properly. We’re committed to working with our customers, waste management companies, councils and governments to make sure we’re providing our customers with not just products but circular solutions.
That said, what has been the biggest victory of the decent journey?
We opened our doors in the UK last April and a small handful of our customers diverted two tons of packaging waste in December by partnering with us and implementing The Full Package. We’re confident it won’t be long until that’s 200 tons.
What kind of materials will make up the cups and packaging we’ll find at The London Coffee Festival
The London Coffee Festival cups are made from FSC paper, lined with plant starch (PLA) and printed with water based inks. They’re also carbon neutral; we measure, reduce and offset our greenhouse gas emissions annually.
Where do you see the future of decent going? You’ve branched into toiletries with the likes of smartass. What’s next?
smartass has been a lot of fun. We’ve used bagasse (sugarcane waste) and combined it with bamboo to create sustainable toilet paper for people who like a wisecrack.
While smartass has been a lot of fun our main focus is creating solutions to help our customers divert their waste. Year on year we see more progress and our customers are diverting more food and packaging waste. While recycling plastic never took off we’ve seen more and more compostable packaging getting composted globally annually.
Whether you're grabbing a brew or ordering deliveroo there are now plastic free solutions at your beck and call which tie into a circular economy.
How about the future of sustainability in general?
The future of sustainability is bright but we’re needing drastic change and fast. It’s vital for companies producing products that they take responsibility for end of life, putting time and resources into finding solutions to make sure those products tie into a circular economy.
It’s also important companies are measuring, reducing and offsetting greenhouse gas emissions annually.
decent packaging will be providing all of the single-use cups and packaging at LCF'20, which will be collected and composted via our one-bin system. Don't forget to visit their stand to find out more!