MiTerro and the Mission of Agricultural Waste

Buckets of foul smelling, curdled milk could be the inspiration for a brand new, fully compostable type of packaging.

The global amount of industrial agricultural waste is staggering. We trash roughly 1.4 billion tons of food each year, approximately one-third of all food produced. That amounts to around 1 trillion USD in revenue losses. And that’s without the carbon cost of making and transporting the food that ends up in landfill.

But Robert Luo, CEO and founder of the material science company MiTerro, has come up with a solution made from milk protein inspired by visits to his uncle’s dairy farm in North-western China.

Luo, now a Forbes Under 30 scholar and Global Shakers Sustainable Fashion Innovator of 2019, was puzzled by the amount of spoiled milk left to waste in this otherwise efficient and well-organized farm, and rose to the challenge set by his uncle to find a solution. Then a student at the University of California, he started researching the make-up of milk waste, and found a way to repurpose it. On a molecular level, the protein structures of wool and milk are not dissimilar, and Luo and his childhood friend, Zhuang, figured out a way to mimic the wool protein structure to form a bio-based, water-degradable, home compostable packaging material that is cheaper than the conventional plastic. According to MiTerro, this material produces 80% less CO2 emissions.

Using the endless supply of agricultural waste and byproducts from the plant and dairy industries, MiTerro is now on a mission to replace all the world’s petroleum-based, single-use plastic and paper-based materials with its alternative packaging.

Bio-based detergent pods – photo by MiTerro

Luo believes that he can address two of the biggest problems in the world by turning dairy, stem grain, or soybean waste into plastic alternative packaging material.

Designers have already tried working with milk fibers blended with petroleum-based acrylic. But MiTerro has removed the fossil fuels and claims to have created a totally sustainable product from milk waste. Spinning it into fabric first, the company worked with farmers and food companies in the US and China to fashion milk shirts, underwear, and facemasks. The media went crazy.

Now they’ve expanded the theory to include natural polymers from other agricultural waste such as beer, potatoes, and paper pulp, creating a unique prototype compostable material that is 20-40% cheaper than other bio-based products. And as it’s water-based, it leaves no microplastics in the oceans.

The material’s strong water and oxygen barrier and heat-sealable capacity mean that it can package fresh produce, dry food, fashion, cleaning products, and technological devices. Global corporations from Georgia Pacific and SPB to Budweiser and Unilever and Lipton, are lining up to test out its potential.

Learn more about MiTerro.

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