ALL Ways: First Mile Links Big Brands Like PUMA with Local Plastic Collection Networks for Big Sustainable Projects

by S. Creastam

Collection is the first stage in the process of repurposing plastics. Brands and consumers alike are in support of making sure less plastics are drifting aimlessly in oceans, and ironically not rotting in landfills. From shoes to backpacks, there are numerous ways plastics are reincorporated into the production of goods.

In this series, called ALL Ways, we’ll grow to know social enterprises by their charming points. We say “charming” to refer to branding and approaches that help us see another way to manage social entrepreneurship. We’ll also suggest ways to interact or use these charming points in our own involvements with social enterprise (personally and professionally).

This post is an outside observation of a company for inspiration in social enterprise interaction and engagement.

In today’s post, we look into the community-powered First Mile connecting locals to global brand partnerships. First Mile manages plastic collection networks that brands can work with to create sustainable products.

Knowing the Company: First Mile

First Mile collaborates with locals of low-income communities to establish reclamation supply chains. The name of the company, First Mile, is meant to emphasize the first stage of reintroducing plastics back into the economy. Communities focus their efforts on collecting and managing low‑value recycled polyethylene terephthalate (rPET), also known as plastic bottles, while First Mile connects with brands that reincorporate the plastic in new products. Plastics received from the communities are then transformed into stylish backpacks, sporty sneakers, and much more.

As of now, First Mile works regularly with three countries, which include Haiti, Honduras, and Taiwan. Plastic collection networks in these countries are handled in partnership with a representative that oversees the recycling operations. First Mile values the direct relations to the communities and highlights the Country Managers for each country partner on their team page.

On the Impact Data page, First Mile mentions that it takes around 12 bottles to make a shirt and 9 to make a sneaker. Typically, First Mile partners with brands like Puma, HP, Aerie, Day Owl, and Converse. These brands purchase plastic from the facilities of the reclamation supply chains in Haiti, Honduras, and Taiwan to be used in their environmental efforts.

First Mile is an official initiative of Thread International and WORK, all three are connected by the founder Ian Rosenberger. (This is actually an interesting point for social entrepreneurs. Check the What’s Next professional suggestions for why.)

What Surprised Us

Social enterprises that manage true relationships with communities are always nice to see. By honoring authentic relations with locals, First Mile creates a system within the community that allows ownership of the concern. These partnerships that amplify ownership are a strategic way of turning a concern into leverage. With this leverage, communities are better able to thrive socially and economically. A few approaches within this business help protect the benefits communities get from working closely with First Mile.

Surprisingly, the company isn’t exactly a materials provider or manufacturer. In the words of First Mile: “Rather, we are experts in assessing, improving, and monitoring supply chains at the raw material level.” Sticking to supply should cut back additional costs that come with making the actual fabric. When thinking about it, this may be a way of protecting a community from over-manufacturing their natural landscape, putting a strain on resources, or racking up operation costs.

Supplying a more basic form is simple and direct. Probably saves a few headaches as well.

Like many social enterprises should, First Mile tracks their impact. Teams use environmental and financial tracking to measure outcomes that “recycling micro-businesses and impact programming” create within communities. Locals working in the plastic collection networks count their efforts and upload the data into an official ledger at the end of each business day. Apparently, the overall number at the moment is 130,536,033  plastic bottles reincorporated into new products. Brands benefit from the impact tracking as First Mile encourages brands to use their access to a custom impact board, and provides media assets to showcase each individual brand’s contribution to reducing plastic waste.

Between the brands and the community, First Mile gives off a vibe of being committed to empowering communities with less focus on brands. Giving a transparent message that the production is more on the brand than on the community itself, the initiative writes the following on the FAQ page: “…our model does differ from many of the sustainable textile certifications that exist and requires significant investment from the brand rather than from the suppliers.”

What is the benefit for good

Specifically, First Mile points out that the initiative focuses on goals 1, 3, 4, 8, 9, 11, and 12 of the Sustainable Development Goals. From there, First Mile sets up layers of impact through each partnership branch alongside the resulting changes from their efforts. Reclamation supply chains provide communities with jobs and a boost in the local economy. Access to reusable plastic enables brands to reincorporate plastic into new material for products and allow brands to tap into sustainable values. Not to forget, reusing plastics helps divert plastic waste from oceans and landfills.

First Mile wraps their mission and impact in a nice statement found on the home page:

“Our work maps waste sheds and helps brands and NGOs understand how best to tackle the social and environmental issues inherent to informal waste economies and implements those solutions directly. We have created supply chains that have saved millions of pounds of plastic from landfills and the ocean, created income generation opportunities for thousands of collectors, and developed programming that has curtailed and remediated child labor in landfills, undercut bad faith practices like predatory lending, and ensured that families can safely make the transition to the formal economy, all while supplying over a dozen global brands with First Mile approved materials that they and their consumers can be proud of.“

What’s Next

We like to encourage actively participating with positive initiatives. Each person making their own choice to participate adds up! Whether you engage for fun, inspiration, or expression, here are our suggestions for engaging this initiative:

(Personal)

– Visit the official site of the backpack brand directly connected to the First Mile team called Day Owl.

– Find out what campaigns are happening with brands like PUMA, HP, Ralph Lauren, Reebok, and other partner brands.

(Professional)

– Suggest First Mile as a resource for businesses interested in exploring sustainable products reusing plastic waste.

– Read this article on how Ian Rosenberger split Thread International into two entities First Mile and Day Owl.

– Read this article to better understand the longer transformative journey of Thread International.

People Helping People Podcast is seeking methods clearly supporting an effective impact. Observations and discussions on happenings in the social enterprise community are a significant part of our contribution to social good. Continue to check in for more conversation-starting content.

Suggested podcast episodes:

Cameron Cooper is Stopping Plastic Waste at the Source with Circular Economy and Cooper’s Refillery

Anna Alaman from the Open Eyes Project Shares Lessons on Adapting and Community

Suggested blog posts:

5 Meaningful Tips to Create Authentic Conversations and Develop Connections

Sweet Generation Shows You How to Transition in a Social Enterprise Career

Follow People Helping People on WordPress.com

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