Our High 5 series invites changemakers to tell their own stories, and celebrate others. In this edition we hear from an entrepreneur using waste from the beer-making process to tackle the plastic problem.
Meet Robert Luo, founder and CEO of Mi Terro, a young company on a mission to cut food waste and fight plastic pollution at the same time.
He tells us what inspired him to look at waste differently, how entrepreneurs can scale up their impact, and who he’d like to pass a High 5 on to.
What inspired you to do what you do?
When we started, we were using spoiled milk. That was after visiting my uncle’s dairy farm in China. I saw the milk waste he had and was shocked by the amount of it. I wanted to find a solution that would create more value for this unsold milk. That’s when we started researching and developing materials out of milk.
In 2018, Mi Terro was born. Now we have an office in China, which was launched in 2020. We’ve also joined an accelerator program in Shanghai, called Impact Hub. Through this accelerator we came in touch with Budweiser, one of the world’s biggest beer manufacturers. We understood that they have a problem with their spent grain, which is the main by-product of beer and is traditionally used as animal feedstock. We started working with Budweiser to see how we could apply our spoiled milk patented technology to spent grain, which is plant-based instead. In the ideal world there would be no food waste, but we all know that that’s not going to happen. No matter how hard we try, there will always be food waste. We can make use of different sources: from liquids such as milk to solids such as potatoes, cassava or tofu. Basically, we can use any food waste that contains protein and fiber.
What we’re targeting is not the food waste that comes out of our kitchens, but the waste that’s created in our factories. Factory waste can be collected more easily because it’s usually a single type of food waste and it’s all gathered at a single location. Household food waste on the other hand, is so hard to collect and so hard to sort out, that it’s more efficient to use it as a source of bioenergy, rather than as a raw material.
About Mi Terro
Mi Terro is a social impact biotech company that rescues food waste and re-engineers it into new fibres. These are then used as sustainable, biodegradable alternatives to plastic in the fashion, medical and packaging industries. This helps reduce pollution, while giving a whole new life to agricultural by-products that would otherwise go to waste.
What advice would you give to others who want to make a positive impact?
First, understand what you want to do – and if this can be scalable. For example, the plastic packaging industry is valued at $128.8 billion. Even if we manage to take just 1% of this, that’s still a big chunk of revenue. But if you are looking at a smaller industry, worth one billion dollars, even if you get 50% of the industry, you are looking at a much different situation, where scaling up is very challenging.
So it’s important to understand the industry where you are trying to make an impact and understand the other industry players. If you are doing exactly what they are doing, you are not going to make it. Find a niche market and scale up.
Who do you want to pass a High 5 on to?
I would like to give a High 5 to my friend Elliot Roth. He founded Spira, a company that uses spirulina microalgae to produce sustainable dye, which can then be used in the food and fashion industry. Algae is a hot topic right now and I expect his work to have a huge impact in the future.
High 5 Robert!
Interview by Daiana Contini. Photos by Raul Ariano