Upcycling food waste into a biobased plastic alternative

By Natasha Spencer

- Last updated on GMT

Pic: GettyImages-AlexanddrBognat
Pic: GettyImages-AlexanddrBognat

Related tags: Upcycling, Food waste, Plastic, Side-stream utilisation

New technology upcycles milk proteins into plastic and cotton-like fibres to create more sustainable fabric and packaging to reduce food wastage.

US-based MiTerro has developed and utilises two-patent pending technologies to create plastic-alternative biomaterials that are made from agricultural waste.

The technology is getting increasing interest from Europe as the United Nations’ sustainability goals near, and both regulations and leading industry trends in the continent focus on reducing wastage, strengthening supply chains and improving our food system.

Biomaterials from agricultural waste

With its dedication to ending both food and plastic waste, MiTerro strives to redefine the circular economy by upcycling and engineering agricultural waste to replace plastics in food and packaging.

Sharing the vision behind the food wastage brand’s launch, Founder and CEO of MiTerro, Robert Luo revealed: “I was inspired to create biomaterials made from agricultural waste after I visited my uncle's dairy farm in China. Initially, I wanted to help distribute the unsold and spoiled milk that he had on the farm.

Knowing that milk contains protein that can potentially be used to manufacture fibre, the founder used this information to explore how milk could be used to create biomaterials from agricultural waste. And in doing so, solve one of the agrifood industry and food system’s largest and continuing problems.

MiTerro developed a patent-pending technology called Pro-Act (Protein Activation) to extract protein molecules from agricultural byproducts and surplus food. The biomaterial specialists also use another patent-pending technology called Sea-Re (Self-assembly Purification) to purify and reformulate the protein molecules into powder. Once formed, the powder is then spun into fibre. The process creates 100% biobased and compostable alternatives.

Influential trends

As an extension of shifting consumer attitudes and behaviours in recent years, in 2021, transparency is a leading trend, Innova Market Insights explained. Food and drink shoppers are seeking transparent brands that engage in storytelling and reveal their packaging technologies.

“Transparency throughout the supply chain will dominate in 2021, with consumers searching for brands that can build trust, provide authentic and credible products, and create shopper confidence in the current and post-COVID climate,”​ highlighted Lu Ann Williams, Director of Insights and Innovation, Innova.

Sustainability is leading the food and drink industry, and post-COVID, these efforts are set to evolve as public health priorities will push manufacturing efforts that centre on reducing and rechannelling food waste. Ethical, sustainable and recyclable claims are also highly sought after by consumers.

Plant-based products are also gaining traction, with the expanding trend reaching more regions and market categories. Consumers are interested in responsibly-made products. Shoppers are actively exploring the brands and products’ environmental impact with a focus on maximising sustainable and planet-friendly product purchases.

The COVID-19 pandemic has placed further emphasis on our individual wellbeing as well as caring about supply chains and our local communities, and the overall health and security of our global food system.

Consumers seek socially-conscious brands that strive to lower wastage, improve sustainability and utilise upcycling methods. Increasingly, brands that delve and invest in research, science and technology that focuses on the health and wellbeing of individual consumers, communities and the wider globe are popular amongst eco-conscious buyers.

Calls for upcycling in Europe increase

As the European food and beverage marketplace places growing importance on the power and potential of plant-based foods, sustainability throughout the supply chain and packaging, as well as securing the future of our food systems, MiTerro and its technology is receiving interest from European brands.

“We have received a big volume of purchase inquiries from European companies on our milk fibre and on our new product, which is a compostable flexible packaging material made from spent grain,”​ confirms Luo.

Drawing on why the brand’s eco-conscious packaging has received interest in particular from Europe, Luo goes on to say: “The new packaging material has attracted a lot of attention because European laws require companies to abandon non-biodegradable or non-compostable plastic.”

Each year, one-third of the world’s food goes to waste, MiTerro shares on its Instagram page. With food waste creating 3.3 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases, MiTerro is turning milk waste into sustainable fibre to contribute to Europe and the globe’s upcycling needs.

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