tshirt made with spoiled milk
Brittany Hambleton
Brittany Hambleton
July 21, 2020 ·  5 min read

Startup Re-Engineers Spoiled Milk Into Biodegradable Clothing

According to a recent study, US households waste an estimated thirty to forty percent of the food they purchase every year. The total annual cost of this wasted food is approximately 240 billion dollars, which works out to be 1,866 dollars per household [1]. 

The truth is, however, a large portion of the food produced in the United States every year never even reaches our dinner plates. Spoilage and waste occurs at every stage of the production process, including harvest, shipping, and supermarket distribution [2].

One company has figured out a way to save at least some of that wasted food, by turning spoiled milk into clothing.

It Started With a Trip to the Farm

When Robert Luo visited his uncle’s dairy farm in China in 2018, he couldn’t help but notice the massive amount of milk products that were going to waste. He saw “buckets and buckets” of spoiled milk that couldn’t be sold [3,4].

That prompted him to form the company Mi Terro, which turns spoiled milk into clothing. 

How to Turn Milk into a T-Shirt

For three months, the company worked with a team of PhD material scientists and chemists to come up with a way to turn spoiled milk into protein, which can then be spun into fibre to create yarn.

There are three main steps to turn milk into clothing:

  1. Obtain milk and other dairy products from farms, food processing, and grocery stores.
  2. “Protein Activation” and “Self-Assembly Purification” technology, developed by Mi Terro, is used to extract and purify the protein molecules from the spoiled milk bacteria to create the base component of the clothing.
  3. The clean casein protein is spun into fibers using “Dynamic Flow Shear Spinning”. This forms the yarn that can be used to make t-shirts, underwear, and bags [3].

This process that the team at Mi Terro created uses sixty percent less water than what is required to make a shirt from organic cotton. They are also three times softer because of the milk protein content, are moisture-wicking, block UV light, are breathable, anti-bacterial, and odor-free [5].

“We are redefining the circular economy in which everything begins with food waste and ends as recyclable or biodegradable,” says Luo [4].

Seeing Success

The company barely over a year ago in June 2019, and has already made over one hundred thousand dollars, and sold products in forty countries around the world. There are over ten styles of t-shirt available, all of which are machine-washable.

Currently, the company is discussing strategic partnerships with leading dairy companies in China [4].

Read: First Floating Ocean Hybrid Platform Can Generate Power From Waves, Wind And Solar

Other Ways to Reduce Food Waste

You may not be able to develop your own process for how to turn food waste into clothing, but there are many other ways that you can reduce the amount of food you and your family wastes on a regular basis:

1. Make your food last longer

Plan ahead so that you know what you are going to cook that week so you don’t buy food you don’t need. Check expiry dates, but remember that most food can be eaten even when it’s past the date on the label- just make sure it looks and smells ok. If you aren’t able to finish something right away, you can also consider freezing it to be eaten later- you’d be surprised at how many foods can be frozen.

2. Consider using an app

Flashfood is an app that re-sells grocery foods that are approaching their best-before dates at a discount and saves “not good enough” items and ships them to customers. Farmers and growers can also give Flashfood items that were rejected by grocery stores to be sent to consumers.

Food For All is an app that operates in New York City and Boston. It connects customers with restaurants one hour before they close for meal discounts as high as eighty percent. Users can also donate food to people in need through the app.

Foodfully allows users to track what they buy at the grocery store and sends you notifications before your purchases go bad. It also suggests recipes based on what you have in your fridge. Store food properly. Often, fruits and vegetables ripen prematurely and spoil because they are stored improperly. Some foods, like potatoes, like potatoes, tomatoes, garlic, and onions should never be refrigerated. Other foods should be separated from each other. For example, foods that produce ethylene gas, like bananas, avocados, tomatoes, cantaloupe, peaches, pears, and green onions, can cause other produce around them to ripen too quickly, and should be kept in a separate storage area [6].

3. Preserve your food.

Pickling, drying, fermenting, canning, freezing, and curing are all ways to preserve fresh food for a much longer time. Most of these techniques are very simple, will save you money, and will allow you to enjoy the delicious fruits and vegetables from the harvest season all winter long [6].

4. De-clutter your fridge

Keep your fridge organized so you can clearly see foods and know when it was purchased. Use the “first in, first out” method, which means when you come home from the grocery store, put the new items behind the old items so you can clearly see which ones should get used up first [6].  

5. Use the odds and ends

Stems, ends, and peels of produce may not taste great in a salad, but they can add a boost of nutrition and flavor to smoothies, or be used to make a delicious stock for soups and stews [6].

6. If possible, compost

Not everyone has the space for an outdoor composting system, but there are also countertop composting systems that work well for people living in tighter quarters. Adding compost to your garden gives your plants a host of beneficial nutrients to help them grow [6].

The bottom line is that food waste is a problem all over the world. While companies like Mi Terro are doing amazing work to reduce the amount of global food waste, it is important as consumers that we are also doing our part to reduce what gets wasted in our own homes.