Ending food waste, starting in your kitchen 🚮
One company’s bid to remove the biggest contributor to overburdened landfills and eliminate a major source of climate-warming gas.
Watch our interview with Mill co-founder Matt Rogers on creating a zero-food waste future.
Join us Wednesday for a conversation with Alberto Ibargüen about the future of journalism, arts, philanthropy, and Miami.
Food waste is a big problem.
More than a third of the food we buy each week is thrown into the trash. Thrown-away food is the single largest source of waste in landfills. Rotting food releases voluminous levels of climate-warming methane into the air. As a result of this destructive cycle, if food waste were a country, it would be the third largest emitter of climate warming gasses in the world.
An entrepreneur is trying to change this by ending food waste once and for all.
Matt Rogers, who developed the iconic Nest Learning Thermostat with Tony Fadell more than a decade ago, launched Mill with co-founder Harry Tannenbaum. It’s a home appliance resembling a trash bin that, while you sleep at night, turns food waste into animal feed. Doing so not only helps end food waste but removes the biggest contributor to overburdened landfills and eliminates a major source of climate-warming gas.
“We’ve managed to take something awesome, food that we love, and turn it into poison for the world,” said Rogers. “This doesn’t make sense to me. I started this company to make it really easy to take food out of the landfill.”
For our latest Opportunity Miami Interview, we spoke with Rogers to discuss how the company is seeking to end food waste, and its effort to make its containers a ubiquitous presence in kitchens across the US.
You can watch or listen here.
MAKE THE RIGHT THING, THE EASY THING
In the last half-century, few new home appliances have dramatically changed daily life. The short-list includes appliances like the dishwasher and washing machine - perhaps the Nest thermostat too (which Google purchased for $3.2 billion in 2014). But Mill is aiming to join this elite group.
Standing a little more than two feet tall, the Mill churns and dehydrates food scraps of almost any kind - from meat and cheese to fruits and vegetables - and turns it into animal feed in a matter of hours. Once a bin is full, a button on the Mill app on your phone prompts the U.S. Post Office to pick up the grounds and ship it to farms for chickens to eat.
It represents a change from today’s typical formula of a kitchen having two receptacles - trash and recycling - to have three now.
Of course, there are people today who already separate food scraps and compost them. Indeed, some cities collect compost along with recyclables and trash. But neither the ease or speed of composting is great. And adoption rates remain wanting.
It’s with that in mind, that Rogers - who was an engineer at Apple before co-founding Nest and, now, Mill - aims to drive massive behavior change by making food recycling easy. To do it, he’s following a three-part formula previously employed with the Nest thermostat:
Mimic a previous behavior (such as scraping food off your plate into the trash).
Make the new option better, easier, and more convenient than what came before.
Use data, gamification, and feedback loops to validate and maintain long-term behavior change.
“A key lesson,” wrote Rogers in Forbes in June, is “when you make the ‘right’ thing to do the ‘easy’ to do, people change their daily rituals.”
I can attest. In full disclosure, I’m a Mill customer. Last Spring, at our Opportunity Miami convening at University of Miami with the World Climate Tech Summit, we hosted investors from several of the leading climate tech VCs in the world. In reviewing each firm’s portfolio, I noticed Mill. So I signed up to get one. By late July a Mill bin was in our Coconut Grove kitchen.
Since then our kitchen has produced zero food waste. Just this week I received an email for the latest batch of grounds we sent in: 10lbs of food waste was converted into chicken feed, saving the equivalent of 33 kgs of CO2 emissions - which is the equivalent of 86 miles in a gas-powered car. (Mill calculates the emissions total as the difference between landfill emissions and feed production savings versus energy usage and shipping.)
PARTNERING WITH CITIES
Yet, there is a ceiling to Mill’s current revenue model. Currently, it’s a direct-to-consumer subscription model. The consumer pays $33 a month (bin included) for the service. This, of course, raises the question: how many people in, say, Miami - who already pay property taxes for services like trash and recycling collection - would pay an additional $33 a month for food waste pickup?
Rogers readily agrees there’s a limit to that universe of people. Instead, he says there is a future in which Mill partners with cities seeking to limit food waste in its landfills and picks up the feed, just as it picks up trash and recycling. The feed could be delivered to local farms. So too, people could keep the feed and turn it into compost for use in a yard or garden at home.
“We are paying for the service today,” said Rogers, referring to trash removal. “What if those services could also do the right thing for the planet too?”
The recycled food space is getting attention. Products like Lomi, Vitamix, and Reencle have all hit the market. But Mill, which started shipping bins to customers earlier this year, is getting investors' attention. It raised $100 million from climate tech venture firms including Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Third Sphere, Lower Carbon Capital, and Prelude Ventures, among them.
If the Mill and its competitors can make it work, it would serve as one more step in transitioning to a sustainable, net-zero economy while creating jobs and driving economic growth. Perhaps, too, reducing a major source of waste in landfills.
That is Rogers’ vision when thinking about 2040.
“We have to move to a future of zero waste,” said Rogers, adding the future he hopes to see is one in which “we’ve tackled the climate crisis and we’ve done it in a way that has more jobs, more economic opportunity, more business.”
JOIN US WITH ALBERTO IBARGÜEN
On Wednesday we will sit down with Knight Foundation CEO Alberto Ibargüen, who is set to step down next month after 18 years in his post, for a conversation about the future of arts, journalism, philanthropy, and Miami. I hope you will join us. You can register here.
As the future-focused arm of the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, Opportunity Miami is a platform for people passionate about where Miami goes next. As always, we would love to hear from you.
If you have a company or entrepreneur to suggest or an idea to share that relates to building Miami’s future, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch our Interview and On Site video series featuring leaders shaping Miami's future. Please also follow us on our social media channels. If you were forwarded this newsletter, you can subscribe by clicking here. And if you are new to Opportunity Miami, you can learn about our mission and work here.
One final note: we’ll be taking a break for the next two weeks. The Opportunity Miami newsletter will be back the week of January 8th. Until then, we wish you and yours a wonderful holiday and a very happy New Year.