How much food do you throw away every week? And do you have to?
That's today's big question, and my guest is Matt Rogers.
Matt is a former Apple iPod and iPhone engineer. The Co-Founder of Nest thermostats, Founder of incite.org, and former Chairman of Carbon180. He is now the Co-Founder and CEO of Mill.
What's Mill? It's a membership toa food-shrinking, de-stinking kitchen bin, and it just may be one of the most important levers you and I can take to fight food waste and climate change.
I'm a huge fan of Matt's multidisciplinary work to drive systems change across tech, non-profits, and politics.
Mill may be his most direct take on it yet.
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Quinn: [00:00:00] How much food do you throw away every week? And do you have to? That's today's big question, and my guest is Matt Rogers. Matt is a former Apple iPod and iPhone engineer. The co-founder of Nest thermostats, Founder of insight.org, and former Chairman of Carbon 180. He is now the Co-Founder and CEO of Mill.
What's Mill? It's a membership to a food-shrinking de-stinking kitchen bin, and it just may be one of the most important levers you and I can take to fight food waste and climate change. Welcome to Important, Not Important. My name is Quinn Emmett, and this is Science for People who give a shit. In our weekly conversations, I take a deep dive with an incredible human who's working on the front lines of the future to build a radically better today and tomorrow for everyone. Along the way, we'll discover tips, strategies, and stories you can [00:01:00] use to get involved. This is how we give a shit.
As a long-time fan of Matt's work and early evangelizer of the products he's worked on and invented and as someone who tries and struggles with compost -- Iâve got three kids -- I couldn't have been more excited and frankly relieved to see Matt and his co-founder, Harry Tenenbaum, bring their very unique backgrounds and skills to such an enormous and complex but intimate, everyday problem. I'm a huge fan of Matt's multidisciplinary work to drive systems change across tech and non-profits and politics.
But Mill may be his most direct take on it yet.
Matt Rogers, welcome to the show.
Thank you for putting up with all of our crazy links and getting all setup.
Matt Rogers: Happy to be here.
Quinn: Matt, I like to start with, it's a little bit of a ridiculous question. It sets the tone for the whole fiasco, but I've asked it over 150 times, so you might cackle at it, but then we usually get something provocative, [00:02:00] if not inspiring out of it.
And I'd like to ask, Matt, why are you vital to the survival of the species? And again, I encourage you to be bold and honest.
Matt Rogers: That is a really good one. Oh, man. I think I've got a particular set of skills when it comes to building great products and it's one of the things I like to reflect on my life and my career.
There are only so many people who have worked on the best products of humanity. And to take those skills and apply them for good is a Venn diagram of a very small bubble. It's why I work on climate change. Can you apply skills learned in the temple of Apple to day-to-day consumer problems that affect humanity, and yeah, that's why I spend all my days on.
That's what I've done most of my adult life. And yeah. Got to keep doing it.
Quinn: I love it, man. Listen, we have covered home electrification quite a lot lately with all the IRA money and all the pieces and all the new stuff. And obviously, you're one of the godfathers of reinventing things that are not so sexy, but which turns [00:03:00] out are literally a part of our daily lives and drive everyone crazy until that comes around. So we'll get to that. But some statistics, we have talked about food waste in a variety of different capacities over time. But just to set the context for anyone who's new to this, and I know you know all this shit, but to set the table as you were here, globally, something like a third of our available arable land is used to create food for livestock. In the US about a third of food grown for humans never actually makes it to someone's stomach. The carbon footprint of US food waste is greater than that of the airline industry. Food takes up more space in landfills than just about anything else. Globally, wasted food accounts for about 8%, I think, of greenhouse gas emissions.
Matt Rogers: There's some new research on that.
There's a new journal article that was published in Nature just a couple of weeks ago that puts food waste and loss at nine gigatons. That's like 15, 18% of emissions. Unbelievable.
Quinn: Yeah. It's crazy. Good news is we're not getting [00:04:00] better at this. So your product couldn't have better timing.
Talk about product market fit. The point is, we've got all this food, we waste a lot of it. We make way more than enough food for everybody, and yet somehow tens of millions of people tend to go hungry in this country over and over again. Again, we've had some really cool conversations about food waste in the past year with Rick Nahmias, who runs Food Forward in Los Angeles.
They attack it from one area. With James Rogers, I assume no relation, over at Apeel, who do truly when he explained what he did to us, and this was a couple of years ago, I was like, I don't understand any of it, but it's incredible. It's all awesome. And there's so much waste up and down the supply chain.
Why have you basically reinvented the trashcan? Like why do you keep coming back to consumer behavior change? Which of all that shit might be the hardest one?
Matt Rogers: Yeah, so like rewinding the clock back a little bit as to like why I jumped into this problem is actually, it's because of exactly what you said.
This is one of the largest problems that [00:05:00] humanity and the planet faces. It's embarrassing. We have some really large challenges that require like astronomical scientific breakthroughs. Like grand challenges of humanity kind of breakthrough, how to do nuclear fusion at atmospheric levels.
Quinn: And like the people are like, look, how do we make steel? Like with clean energy, that's actually going to be really hard.
Matt Rogers: Exactly. Or how to remove CO2 from the air without using too much energy to do it. Things that are really, really hard. And this is, let's call it one of the grand challenges of humanity, but it's kind of dumb. Preventing food from going into the trash.
It's like when you put it that way, itâs like this is what we have to do? Like truly we can do this. Can't we just call everybody up and say, Hey FYI, we got to stop putting food in the trash. It's really important and like we can truly do that. When you get down to it, even in the most well-meaning households and like I'll raise my hand on this one. Swathi and I live in a very climate-forward household. Like we [00:06:00] tried to do the right thing with food waste and we had one of those countertop pales. Yeah. And when the fruit flies moved in 2020 that was it.
Quinn: There were a few like rougher memories my children have than dad's fight against the fruit flies for six months in 2021. They don't, they never leave.
Matt Rogers: They never leave and you buy this like yellow sticky paper and you hang it all over the house and like they stick to it, but there are always more fruit flies. It's kind of like out of that frustration, like surely, like we could build a better system.
And stepping back a little bit, like in part of what Harry, my partner, and I had to go through is acknowledging like that food waste will exist. Like even if we perfectly engineer refrigeration. And your point about the Apeel, like, making fruits and vegetables last a really long time. Food waste is inevitable.
And like banana peels, for example, we're not going to eat banana peels. And I've got two little kids and embarrassingly half of what we feed them ends up on the [00:07:00] floor and the dogs can eat some of it, but not all of it. It's like figuring out a system where we can make that part really easy and not gross.
So that, yeah, effectively we're going to call up every household on the planet and say, Hey don't need to throw your food in the trash anymore. We've got a new way.
Quinn: It makes so much sense. Again, half the reason I do this work, most of the reason is people just going what can I do?
And it sounds insane to say to them, please stop throwing all your food in the trash. Like just eat it or just keep eating it. The expiration days, whole other podcast, like most of them arenât real. Ignore it. Ugly fruit. Great. Still good. Cut off the piece. It's annoying, but this is when people's eyes glaze over because they're like one that's super annoying because like you said, it's gross, food waste actually gets gross two, they're like, that can't be the thing of all the things that are causing the problems. I'm like, no, it is. It's a big fucking part of it and it's 100% on us.
Matt Rogers: Yeah. And this is another one that I often hear, especially since Mill launched a few [00:08:00] months ago, is Oh, like food waste. That must be a grocery store or restaurant problem. And they're frankly in the business of not wasting food.
They run razor-thin margins. Like they're very well incentivized to not waste food and looking at US data, about half of food waste and loss is us at home. It really is like a, unfortunately, a consumer problem because again, like today we don't really have another option.
Quinn: It's interesting, right?
Because again, the supply chain needs a lot of work. We have a lot of, there's a lot of broken pieces along the way. In the sense of control what you can control, but also having context and empathy for these things. Like you said, grocery stores. Yes. On the one hand, we have incentivized them to sell the most beautiful produce, but they're trying not to waste any of this.
Restaurants, never invest in a restaurant, they're great. But if you've ever worked in one and you've taken a plate back and you have to tell the chef someone won't eat it. Look at the disappointment in their eyes because they know that is wasted food. And the margins, like you said, are non-existent.
[00:09:00] But when you or I throw some moldy Dave's bread in the trash. Because we were gone for a week or we just ignored it or the kids were picky and didn't want to eat it that week, but they ate it the week before. We don't do that math. And I want to talk a little bit about Mill from that perspective, because it's not cheap necessarily, but at the same time, and this is half of my job, is talking to people about what they're exposed to in risk and the real costs and how we haven't paid them.
You pay for your trash one way or another.
Matt Rogers: And whether you pay for it every month or it's part of your rent or it's on your property taxes. I think the latest data I saw is in the US we spend about 200 billion a year managing waste, like 200 billion. That's like a military-level budget, to throw stuff away.
Quinn: But we're still not paying the cost of the diesel trucks and the landfill and all that shit.
So the point is you and I don't have a little reader, like a restaurant knows, like every piece of fish that you throw in the trash is like a piece that we wasted, that we paid for. We don't really do that because we're trying to [00:10:00] feed the children something theyâll eat. How did you get to reinventing the trash can to Mill to bypassing compost almost to all this and then deciding, hey, this is going to be the business model for it. Talk us through how you got there.
Matt Rogers: So again, start started with how could we make a better experience at home? And going to our own personal experience, trying to do the right thing with food waste and trying to compost. If you could solve the fruit fly problem, the rat problem, the smell problem.
Actually, the rest becomes a lot easier. And we had spoken in the early days of the company to a lot of experts and this was a cool thing about starting a company in the pandemic in 2020, is everyone was around. Like we would call, like professors at UW who are experts in this, and yeah, everyone answered their phone like, oh yeah, I'm available.
We got a lot of really good input as we're starting. And what we learned is even in cities that are doing everything right, that have the Green Bend program that the city provides, One, participation rates were really low. Really quite low. And if you look [00:11:00] actually in the trash youâd still find most of the food in the trash stream.
And if you look at what comes out of their compost stream, it's also full of contamination. And if you've ever bought a truck full of compost to for your garden, you'd find plastic everywhere. Like the more we looked at it, this is a consumer behavior problem. It felt a lot like what we used to do at Nest.
Can you make a beautiful experience, that's easy and just awesome? Just a better experience. We know how to do that, and that's how we built the early days of the company. It was like, let's build the best freaking trashcan that's ever existed that could take food waste and make it not gross.
And that's how we started. And as we were accomplishing that in our own development, we realized, oh, the stuff we're making is super valuable, by drying out food, by making it not gross. We're effectively, like the Apeel story, we're making food that's shelf stable and lasts a long time. If you're making small-a-fied food that's shelf stable, what stuff can you do with food?[00:12:00]
You could feed it to somebody.
Quinn: Did you aim for better compost at one point and then pivot to this mechanism? Or to be clear folks like it isn't that at all, and we're going to get into whole the whole thing you're doing, but there's actually pretty clear delineation and it's not something that's really been attempted.
So I'm just curious like when it went that way.
Matt Rogers: So we looked at all sorts of technologies and techniques to make food not gross. That was like our, from like a product manager perspective, like those were our key goals. Can we make it not gross? And the fastest path to making things not gross is you take the water out.
When you take the water out, all those bacterial processes stop, like digestion doesn't happen when things are dry. And if you build, I think the analogies of the world, I always think about analogies, brewing beer. Like when you add the water to the mix, that's when the fermentation happens.
When it's dry, like the yeast are dormant, and the same is true with our food. If it's dry, those [00:13:00] fungi, those bacteria don't do anything. They're all dormant. And when it's wet, that's when the gloopiness happens. That's when the VOCs get released. When it's dry, it's no big deal. So, as we were starting the company, we looked at all sorts of different techniques to make food not gross.
And this was the absolute fastest path. You could dry food in a couple hours, that's the fastest path to make it not gross at home. And once you've made it dry, what are the great things you could do with it? And that's what led us to this path of oh, can we make a make feed for animals?
Quinn: Because I imagine that realization point and again, I want to talk about that now, but it's a little like, careful because once you pull this string, there's a whole fucking sweater on the other end, which is you guys have opened yourself up to a lot of logistics. It's not just eh, make food for animals and then ask people to put in the right bin.
Because it's clear we don't do that. We don't, there's no self-serve. Like we don't do that. So now you're like, shit, now I got to solve that too. What was that moment when you're like, All right. I guess we're going down this [00:14:00] road. We got to do all the rest of that, because the beauty of a thermostat is you turn it and you're like, my job's done here.
Matt Rogers: And you nailed it. This is exactly our thought process. So in the early days of Mill, late 2020, early 2021, that was our hypothesis. Oh, I, we could drive this stuff out and you could put it in your green bin at home. Or you could use it in your garden and you can make compost for your plants.
And then we did a lot more research and we're like, oh, only 5% of US homes have a green bin program. Oh, that's not going to work. And frankly, most people don't have the space and time to make compost for a garden and let alone all the urban centers that exist around the country. As you start unraveling the sweater, we're like, oh, so we got to come collect this stuff.
We can't leave it to chance for it to end up in the landfill, so let's come collect it and then once you come collect it, what are you going to do with it?
Quinn: How does it work?
Matt Rogers: Yeah, so we do the full end-to-end. We make the bin for your kitchen. That makes it not gross. We come and collect it from your doorstep with a partnership with the US Postal Service.
We don't actually have to come drive our own trucks to get it. [00:15:00] There are trucks that come to your house every day anyway.
Quinn: So weird. Yeah, by the way, that's literally the Netflix DVD model. They were just like, you already get the mail.
Matt Rogers: You already get the mail. Nobody can come drop it off.
Yeah, exactly. And the US Postal Service is one of the most efficient logistics networks in the country. They go everywhere, every day. So, let's get it back to us so that we can process it and get it to farms to feed animals, namely chickens to start with. We do the entire full loop and to your point, like we end up unraveling the whole sweater because we realize each step of this chain doesn't exist today, that we'd have to do it all ourselves to start with.
Quinn: I imagine you in full faith with, because I know you know the scope of your involvement in trying to build a better planet through companies and philanthropy and all these different things. I imagine there was no version for you and your co-founder of let's just do the trashcan and they'll figure out the rest.
I don't think you could have left it at that, right?
Matt Rogers: I wish we could have. It would've been a hell of a lot easier. It would've been a lot easier. It would've been a lot easier for us to say, Hey, let's just build a better bin. That would be [00:16:00] awesome, but like that would leave too much up to chance.
And I think about a household like ours that lives in an urban center. A very well-meaning household, but what are we going to do with hundreds of pounds of dried food? Got to have someone to come pick it up and take it off our hands and do something great with it. We're doing the whole end to end.
And once we realize that we are going to build the whole end to end, like all of a sudden the scope of the company got a lot bigger.
Quinn: So I think one of the things that people will love about this, and again I understand the initial, and this is where we've just got to help people understand the greater context of what our actions cost, like both directly and indirectly, which we put our head in the sand about.
Now here we are. I understand the initial looking at something like this, or for example, a Lomi, which me and my wife and my kids and I have problem with the Lomi is it's great and then it actually, the resulting matter still tastes like food. So your dogs go eat it, which is super annoying.
Anyways, the point is you have almost [00:17:00] invented and are building the distribution for a new sort of version of one of these circular economies, right? Which it's easy to say the circular economy, but as you know from e-waste to whatever, there's a thousand different version of these things.
So why chicken feed? Why does this really matter to the greater sort of fight? And why specifically, how did you get to oh, we can heat this shit up and we can dry it out? Why did you go that way?
Matt Rogers: Yeah, so think about the circular economy. We're building loops and when you look at loops, you want to make the tightest loop you can.
And Bill McDonough's book Cradle to Cradle has a really good kind of reference point for like people in their mind. The tighter the loop you make, the less lost there is along the loop. For every step along the way, thermodynamics plays into effect and you have loss. Really getting in the weeds.
So the tighter the loop, the less lost. And you could take food and feed it to microbes to then feed the soil, to grow plants, to then feed animals, to feed humans. That's the best [00:18:00] loop that we have today as a society. And that's a good loop. That's much better than landfill to methane in the atmosphere, which is poison.
But we thought about what is the tightest loop we could do? You take the food that we don't eat, feed it directly to somebody else, and ideally you could feed it to a person. But I don't think that's probably a good idea with the things that we don't eat in our kitchen. Cans, packaged goods, please donate to a food bank, but like the banana peels and apple cores.
The best thing to do with those would be to feed it to somebody else. Sure. In that case, chickens, because we have, I hate to say it's like unlimited chickens on the planet.
Quinn: The actual number might as well be unlimited. It's obscene.
Matt Rogers: 8 billion chickens in the US is like mind boggling number. This is right, like mind-blowing stats, like if we collect all of the food waste for the entire country.
We would be like a single-digit percentage of the chicken feed market. I often get asked this, especially like by the investment community of oh, like one day you're going to satisfy the whole chicken feed market and what's that going to do? Like No, no, no. You don't [00:19:00] understand how many chickens there are out there. We will never satisfy the chicken feed market. So you think about like the thermodynamics of that. We dry the food and we don't need to like, process it further. Like basically we filter it and we pasteurize it and that's what gets fed to the chickens. It gets mixed in with their normal diet, with the corn and the soy and the wheats of the world.
But yeah, like we don't need to further process it. It keeps all those nutrients, we don't need to transform it further.
Quinn: We've been drying food for astronauts for 75 years, right? It retains its nutritional value. We know that. The ice cream, it's so great. So again, on the pulling the sweater thing, you're not just now going, okay, now we got to work with US Postal Service to pick this stuff up.
And we got to give you the boxes and the subscriptions. We can give you the boxes. Now we're going to make it into chicken feed. That's great. At some point, one of you two has to open the Google Doc and go, Talk to factory farms about chicken feed, which is a bullet point that is much more involved than it seems like.
So tell me about that part of it, because again each step along the way, you're just like, ugh. Okay, here we go.
Matt Rogers: This is a [00:20:00] sweater has got a lot of threads. So to start with, we're going to partner with small to mid-sized family farms that think about animal ware welfare and have free range birds. Our first partner being up in the Pacific Northwest where our first feed processing facility is, and again there are a lot of chickens out there, even like a small to mid-size farm has millions of chickens. We're a ways away from getting to the Purdueâs and Tysons of the world. But at some point, at scale, yeah, we want to be feeding all of the chickens. And that's how we make a difference on climate. And for a chicken producer, for a poultry farm, I think 60% of their emissions is the feed they feed the birds. It's a little bit different than like a cattle producer where the burps are majority of the emissions. For a poultry farmer, the feed is the source of emissions. So by mixing in our food grounds, and by, mitigating all those methane emissions, that would've happened actually like we're effectively making a carbon-neutral feed for a poultry manufacturer.
Quinn: And is that their incentive or is [00:21:00] there compensation coming their way? Do they get paid to take your feed? Do they pay you to take their feed? Because we don't have anywhere near standardized regulations on methane emissions from farms and shit like that because we can't get our act together. So I would think there would be a little forward looking on that part.
Please do it by all means, but the point is no one's under the gun yet.
Matt Rogers: Yes. So multi-pronged motivation, and again, getting to company philosophy, you want people to do the right thing, but like we don't rely on like people's like philanthropic and humanitarian instincts to drive this change.
It also has to be like in their best interest. So we're going to make a nutritious feed ingredient that is full of protein and fat. It's the good stuff, and price it very competitively versus the corn and soy and wheats of the world. And yes, like you can meet your ESG goals in the company by buying this feed, but that's not the sole reason why you're doing it.
It's also really nutritious.
Quinn: It's super interesting because I feel like in all the research [00:22:00] and again like you said, best case scenario, take everybody's trash, it's six, seven, 8% of total chicken feed, so I understand why no one's focusing up. But six, seven, 8% of an ocean of chickens is a lot of fucking feed and chickens.
So, I do wish there were more focused on this idea of the trashcan is almost like a backwards way of making better chicken feed for the country and for the world. Because for instance, looking at plant burgers and stuff like that, or the thermostat. Like you said, there's a very small segment of people and having done this for a while now, that are going to do this because it's the right thing to do.
Everyone else, like it's got to be a better burger. It's got to be literally a better thermostat, which Nest was, it was great, like ecobee and all this shit. It's got to be better chicken feed and it's got to be a little more reasonably cost, but that is the thing that's going to drive a huge impact.
Matt Rogers: Exactly.
This is our entire philosophy. If we can make a better product. Better for you at home? Who likes stinky trash? No one wakes up saying, I love stinky trash. I love [00:23:00] those bags that rip and drip and leave a mess on my floor.
Quinn: Literally, what is dripping? What is that? Make it stop.
Matt Rogers: Exactly, right?
Yeah, so no one likes that. So we can make a better experience at home, but we also can make a better feed product for farmers and we effectively can connect those dots in that loop. That's what the company is all about. If we're able to collect food waste from Americans and eventually globally to feed animals and eliminate methane emissions from landfill.
That itself is the airline industry, methane emissions from landfills, like two to 3% of global emissions.
Quinn: Huge. And methane's a nightmare. It gets up there and instantly things go that way with the heat index. So again, it's funny, like I've always been such a nerd about this. I was one of the first people with Nest and evangelizing it left and right and all this different stuff. And then you walk around the house and you're like, what other shit do we hate in our house that these guys could do? And then you did the smoke alarms. Of course the trash can't make so much sense.
And of course it's an entire consumer problem that we have self-created and keep inducing, but at the same time, with all the other [00:24:00] stuff you have done over the years, ignoring the fact, the very convenient fact, we're stuck at home with our trash, right. With all the other places you've invested in your work with insight and things like this, you must have been and continue to be exposed to many good ideas where you could apply your very valuable time and ingenuity and resources, because this isn't a one-year gig. iPod, Nest, this, these are chunks of your life. So why do you have to do this?
Matt Rogers: Someone's got to do it. And when I put my insight, my investor hat on, you look at a problem. And you look at like team problem fit.
Is this a team that has the skillsets to solve this problem? Is this a problem worth solving? And gosh, like global food waste certainly is a big enough problem and yeah, what's the impact if we solve this problem? What's the output for humanity and for the planet? And man, this is one where the team problem fit is pretty extraordinary.
There just are not [00:25:00] a lot of former Apple teams working on food waste. There's just not a lot of them. It's oh yeah, the team that made the iPhone, they're working on trash cans now. You don't really hear that a lot. And one, it's humorous, but that's what these problems need.
They need the best teams on the planet working on them.
Quinn: They do. And that's like the whole, I'm going to misquote this, first it was finance, but it was like the best minds of our generation are working on like ad clicks, for 20 years.
Matt Rogers: Yeah. Or crypto.
Quinn: Yeah, god damn it. Ugh. So it's come on, please we have so many other cool things that could also make you a ton of money. You don't have to do those things. How does this grow? Because we have COs and students and artists and product managers and everybody who engages with this, looking to find their way of lateral move or graduate engagement something, or starting a company or joining a company.
Again, trying to answer this question of like, how do I give a shit? What do I do? When you start to pull all these strings on the sweater, it gets complicated. The people you [00:26:00] have to hire who need entirely different logistical proclivities than your team, as exceptional as your history has been, has ever really had, because again, we just talked about all those different variations on it.
I'm just so curious about how you were approaching that as running the company and as you're growing the company and tackling those pieces of the puzzle.
Matt Rogers: Yeah, we had to think about it really differently. My old co-founder and I, Tony and I built Nest in the image of Apple. That was how we built the company and with Mill, Harry and I had to do things differently.
This is not an easy startup. So building the team, yes, we have this deep Apple, Nest DNA around building great products and great experiences. But the other half of the company are like folks from Uber and Lyft. Think about like very disruptive distributed businesses that really surprise people.
Now you take it for granted that like you could get anywhere just by pulling out your phone or get anything by pulling out your phone, but[00:27:00] 15 years ago, like we used to stay on the street corner with our arms out.
Quinn: It's the sort of things I yell at my kids about all the time. I'm like, hi, in my day!
Matt Rogers: We used to stay on the street corner with their arms up and hope someone would stop and pick us up.
Quinn: And they wouldn't. They would not.
Matt Rogers: And they wouldn't. Exactly. So we built this team with really different DNA, deep product expertise from Apple and Nest, distributed infrastructure and logistics from Uber and Lyft.
And deep policy and regulatory expertise people who used to work at the EPA or Cal Recycle, the California Waste Organization, that governs all of waste in California. Like we built a very different team because of the complexity of the problem and actually how many surfaces it touches. Like we're not just building a consumer company.
We're also working with cities and towns. We're working with farmers, like it's a much more complex business than we did at Nest.
Quinn: Did that excite you? Having done, I don't want to say that like Apple stuff, thermostats are more, the surface area is smaller, right? It just is. At this stage in your life, as a dad of [00:28:00] young kids, like taking on this operational complexity, was that exciting? Was it imposing? My podcast, there's far less operational complexity than yours does, but I still try to consider every day, like, how do I get home on time? I'm curious about that, like how you attacked that stage of your life with it.
Matt Rogers: Part of the reason why I'm doing it, I could have stayed as a full-time investor philanthropist. That was fun. I was really enjoying it. But the reality is again, like to your first question when we first got out, I have a particular set of skills. You got to apply it to these kind of problems.
And the fact that this is like the double black diamond of all startups, even more interesting to go do. And high impact, but also really big business. Like we all deal with trash every single day. Cities and towns spend like 200 billion a year in the US managing it. It's a big business. To think like the next trillion dollar company could be a waste management company blows my mind, but is very possible.
Quinn: Because again, it comes down to this idea and it's like I have been incredibly [00:29:00] reluctant to work with advertisers because it turns out when you build a whole business and position on like on top of a horse or on top of a soapbox yelling at people do better.
You can't just take crypto money or offset money or any of this shit, right? You're just like, damn it. But there are things we all interact with every day, and there's things we all need. We all need toilet paper and we all need underwear and socks and stuff like that. And as opposed to me just saying no, go away to these people, there are some exceptional people and companies trying to do the right thing because they realize we all need these things and they're trying to do it.
So I reach out to the, who gives the craps and companies like this who are trying to do the right thing. But it's funny, the young woman who manages our editorial stuff, she's up in, she's Canadian, which means she's better than me, but she's better than me for 50 different reasons, but that's one of them.
She takes it as such a personal offense that toilet paper is mostly still virgin old forest trees from Canada. And she's like, how? Like, how have we not just straight up said you can't do it anymore?
Matt Rogers: Yeah, that's right. It's not [00:30:00] allowed.
Quinn: It seems like there's both that kind of low hanging fruit for stuff we interact with every day, but these things where you go, look, if we're going to go on this journey and do the trashcan, it's the trashcan is such a small piece of the puzzle, right?
Building this trashcan, not to sneeze at the design of this product, which I can't wait to get, it's like you have unlocked a whole different thing here.
Matt Rogers: That's right. And part of my thinking on this is that the design is really the gateway drug. It's oh, that looks cool, like I want to learn more about it.
Or I want that from my kitchen. And it starts to get you thinking and learning more and then you're like, oh gosh, I didn't realize how big this problem was. Or it just, it starts to pull you in. And we solved this with Nest, like there were lots of thermostats before Nest. And you mentioned ecobee, ecobee came before Nest.
Quinn: Did they really?
Matt Rogers: They did. They were a really nice Canadian company. At the time, let's call it 2010, they were making white plastic boxes that required a lot of installation help to get it installed. And we're like, oh, if we make a product that's beautiful and easy to use that people [00:31:00] want, then it gets them in, it gets them hooked.
It worked. Think about Tesla and like what EVs are doing to the auto industry today. They look better. They drive better. I want it just because it's a better car.
Quinn: It's very difficult to drive an EV and then go back to a gas station. Or drive a gas car. Because it's just, again, it's a better burger, right?
It just is fundamentally, and I think this is, and imagine again with everything you've done with insight, and all of your philanthropy, like you've encountered the gatekeeping in the climate battles here of like personal versus systemic and one, and then this doesn't count, but this is, doesn't actually do anything.
And where does organizing play a role and what does that mean anymore? And it's frustrating because it ignores the social element of the fact that we are social creatures and getting someone's foot in the door, getting one house in the neighborhood in the door, et cetera, et cetera.
Matt Rogers: And then they tell their friends. That's how organizing happens. Someone says I believe in this. I want to see change happen. And they call 10 friends and those[00:32:00] 10 friends. Call 10 friends, and then before you know it, you have a movement. I think about some of the great movements of the last decade, the Sunrise Movement.
It's a great example of individual action driving collective action, which then drives systems change. And that works. And with a consumer product hat on, we think about the early adopter that maybe cares about climate and actually thinks about what they purchase every day. And those people then telling their friends, you know what, there's no going back.
Once you try Mill, there's no going back to stinky trash. And then, they tell their friends and we saw this in Nest and like before you know it, youâre in tens of millions of households.
Quinn: It's frustrating because what it does is it just it ignores the entire history of marketing and the way these things have always worked, regardless of the product.
Whether it's terrible for the environment, look at cigarettes, look at the history of advertising, like it fucking works. And that's the thing, it's the thermostat was the thing I would show people and they're like, that's cool. And I'm like, yeah, you know what's great, is like I don't wake up and it's 84 degrees in my bedroom anymore because this thing's smart and people are on their phones going order as fast as I can.
No one wants the [00:33:00] leaky trash bag anymore, where you're going like, what did we eat this week that is leaking through that bag? Could it kill us?
Matt Rogers: Yeah. No one says I want more chores. That's not something people say.
Quinn: Yeah. What's a great quote from the Vince Vaughn movie?
I want you to want to do the dishes. No one wants to do that. I like doing the dishes, but there's a reason no one wants to take out the trash. I like alone time in the driveway at night. That's fair. That's for an entirely different reason. To be clear, that's a different podcast you and I can have later, but the dealing with the trash, it doesn't have to exist and we can do a better job and like you said, someone coming along with a very specific set of proven skills that addresses not just consumer design, but consumer behavior that can understand and empathize with the broader problem.
It does seem like we need you to do this.
Matt Rogers: That's right. That's right. And that's why we're doing it.
Quinn: What are the biggest failure points in the next 12 months? What is really keeping you up here?
Matt Rogers: Two big things keep me up at night. One is apathy. Are people going to give a crap. Look, it's still early days for the company.
So actually, like [00:34:00] people caring does matter. We've tried really hard to showcase why this is important and why people should give a crap. So that's number one. What if people don't care? Number two is what if economic headwinds and inflation and recession get in the way of important climate solutions.
This is a Mill issue, but --
Quinn: Oh, we're seeing in the broader, with interest rates and all the climate tech investing and all that, it's a nightmare.
Matt Rogers: That's right. That's one of my macro meta worries right now is like all this great progress we've made in the last couple years with the IRA and the infrastructure.
Law and investment, is that all going to go down in the toilet because we can't get our shit together with the economy.
Quinn: How much do you think that applies? Because we got to get these early adopters, right? Not just the climate nerds like myself, who like clicked reserve the second I saw the post.
But that influential early segment that buys the Nest and that buys the Tesla and things like that. One would think that's probably the group that can withstand recession headwinds a little bit. But how are you going to work to try to [00:35:00] guarantee that?
Matt Rogers: Spot on. So one is the thing about the folks who can afford to help kickstart this movement, there are millions of those households that can really help get things started, like the Tesla Roadster customer or early, honestly, the early Nest customer.
The folks who are catalysts for a new industry. That's one category. The other is, with partnerships. So we've started our first partnerships with cities. Tacoma, Washington being the first one where the city is going to help get Mill into people's homes and help them save money. In most cities around the country, you pay per month based on the size of your trash bin.
To downsize your bin, you save money. Who doesn't like to save money? So there's a whole strategy around Hey, downsize your bin, get Mill for free. We think that should be enough to get us to our first couple million customers to then demonstrate this works at scale so that cities are providing it to everybody.
Quinn: So again, though, and I think the partnerships is so smart, it's like, where can you identify these levers you can pull, like you said, there are some [00:36:00] severe headwinds coming. You look at a place like California where it seems so natural. Enormous surplus nine months ago. And now they're like, we have to cut everything everywhere.
It's a nightmare. And that's before they've dealt with the floods in the next six months. So that's off the table. And as we've all learned, like over the past three years, city and county and state budgets do not operate like the federal budget, which is a whole different conversation right now.
We've been doing a lot of work with Rewiring America on just like templates that homes and cities and schools and all these places can apply. Is there a standard set of carrots and sticks that you feel like you're presenting to these places that make sense? Or is Tacoma unique?
What's working and how can we compare?
Matt Rogers: Exactly right. And what you're taking a page from the Rewiring America book. There are dollars we're spending today, we spend exorbitant amount of money as a society managing waste. What if we could repurpose some of the dollars that we're already spending, not incremental spending.
We take the dollars we're already spending instead of spending them on [00:37:00] managing waste, on throwing it away effectively. Spend it on preventing waste. And that's a new concept. And one of the leaders on our team, Scott Smithline who actually was one of the architects of California's waste prevention bill, is helping us get this out in the world.
And we think this is a, it's a winning strategy. Let's repurpose the dollars we're already spending. Instead of spending them on landfilling, let's spend them on feeding chickens effectively.
Quinn: Sure. And it again, it makes sense because when we spend them on landfilling, like you said, then we're like, at some point we'll figure out how to remove all that from the atmosphere.
It's like, we haven't even figured that out yet. We're not even, we can't even figure out how to pay that cost yet. I mean like Stripes trying I guess. But it's holy shit man.
Matt Rogers: The easiest thing we do is just not send the food to the landfill. And looking at a state like California, it's a really good example.
So California is a net importer of feed. Why should California import feed when we've got all this food waste we're going to throw away? It makes sense and it's a really nice anti-inflationary message when [00:38:00] we say, instead of having to grow new crops, can we just repurpose the food we already have?
Quinn: When you see Patagonia is one wear program and things like that, it's not just some cute idea. We're literally just not making more shit. It's very straightforward. I don't need more stuff. As you know probably as a dad, like all you do is walk around and go what is all this stuff in my house?
Like all I do is walk around at night, like throw it in the donation bin. We don't need more stuff, much less, like more costs. We're all trying to reduce, we're all trying to identify places where we can operate not just more efficiently, but more intelligently and hopefully with a bit of a moral and climate backbone to it.
It shouldn't be that complicated. But again, we need someone who can really identify these pain points.
Matt Rogers: That's right. And this team that we've built is dedicated to the mission. That's, it's one of the things that I love about the company and has been unique about this team, is everyone is doing it because of the mission, because they want to have an impact on climate and on humanity.
And we've turned down great [00:39:00] people, with awesome backgrounds, with incredible engineering skills, for example, but, or yeah, like I'll work on anything. Like I'll work on the next crypto thing. Weâre like no. Like we want people who want to work on climate.
Quinn: That's keeping the DNA here. What do costs look like as you scale?
Because you're taking on a lot, but also I guess not just hiring and infrastructure wise, but also, and again, I know you've come at sort of your climate work so comprehensively and your organizer work so comprehensively, I'm curious, if you were involved in some way, and you can say or not in, for instance, the fight to make postal trucks electric because that is actually now part of your business.
It is part of your company's scope of emissions. And so, I'm curious how much you're considering pieces like that because what we do and we're increasingly trying to do is help people understand like a portfolio of their kitchen sink. This is what you give a shit about. Like here are the different ways you can affect it.
You can't just, this is a brazen example, but I do believe it's telling, it's not just air quality in your neighborhood, right? [00:40:00] It's air quality in every neighborhood, which is the school buses and the post office trucks, but also the factories and everyone who lives near coal and trains and shit like that, or abortion.
You've got, yes, we need to help women right now, or hunger. Next, we need to feed people right now, we need a better farm bill and we need the child tax credit back and things like that. So I'm curious how you're approaching all of that.
Matt Rogers: Yes. Like in the mission to drive systems change, we have to get involved in all these things and like this is some of the benefit for being an entrepreneur the second time around, but like we've built a policy team at Mill and we were working even before we launched. So we've got a small team out in DC that actually is working with lawmakers on the Farm Bill, for example. And if you're going to reduce food waste, you got to think comprehensively.
And your point about the postal service is a really good one. The postal service is very efficient, but they've got to decarbonize too. And the drive to reduce food waste cannot result in more emissions. We have to be net good. And this is one where, we've actually had to do the [00:41:00] homework ourselves.
There was not a good reference point, so we did a full scoping LCA even before we launched the company of like manufacturing and what does that take and the plastics and the shipping and the postal service. And the heating of the grounds and the energy it uses and all that stuff. And we had to do all the math.
And even with all that, actually, we still save about a half a ton of emissions per household per year. And that's today. It gets better over time, as the grid gets cleaner.
Quinn: And it just comes back to that fundamental point of, and I think you either said it in an interview or maybe in I know you and your co-founder wrote at least one post at one point and forgive me if I'm misquoting it, but essentially we each buy five bags of groceries and throw away two or three of them every week.
That's insane, but when you do the scale of it, it just matters so much. Forget like that is crazy. Think about if you left a bag in the parking lot and you just couldn't get it back, how annoyed you'd be for like a week. That's just on the other end. But it's two of them.
And again, [00:42:00] do that at scale.
Matt Rogers: That's right. And like I think about my grandparents who grew up in the Depression of a hundred years ago. How would they feel about the amount of waste we have in society today? You would just, they would never do things this way. I think about the previous generations where there was no waste.
Like whatever you didn't eat, the chickens or the pigs would eat. That's how things work at actually some parts of the world today. And there's something to say about that. We used to live more sustainably and this shift is doable. We could get back to some of the things that were good about how humanity used to live, that we're more sustainable and we can make it easier and better.
And we're trying to do this in a way that's no compromise. Like better for you in your kitchen, better for cities, and better for the planet. And that's, it's a tough mission. But yeah, someone's got to do it.
Quinn: I think it's incredible. I love it. Again, it seems so painfully obvious, but again, when you do the math on it, you're like, good luck.
That's a big lift, man. But like you said, and again, I've made this joke to a lot of people, especially my wife, who then [00:43:00] just walks away, but in the 2050 Water Wars, when my children are like, what did you do when everything is on the line? And Iâd be like, I had a podcast.
They're going to be like, God damnit. Come on man. My wife and I have talked about this a lot. Again, because our kids are now 10 and eight and seven. You got to actually walk the walk now. Because they ask me all the time, for the podcast, they say, who did you call this week? And they're keeping track of that stuff and they're curious and they're interested and it matters.
And your kids are going to get to the point and go, what is the new trash can do? And why? And that plays a bigger part of my life every day.
Matt Rogers: We got to do it. We don't have a lot of time to make this change. People have been saying that for a long time and like the worst of the doom and gloom.
But there was that day in California where we woke up and the sky was orange. All day. This is real. Like when we have flood season and fire season in Northern California, like we don't have a lot of time. So look, it's worth the best and brightest to work on these problems, and like I've dedicated [00:44:00] my life to it.
I know tons of other folks are doing it and look like we can do this. Look at the progress we've made in renewables and electric vehicles like we are driving that change, but we need to drive that change everywhere. And we kinda need to do it all now.
Quinn: That's what's scary about it.
That's what's fun. That's what's empowering about it, is not just this, like we're teetering on the edge of two very different futures. Like it's not two things, it's going to be a muddled version of it all. But we could actually build something that's incredible where trash doesn't leak everywhere, and itâs just better. I'm such a huge admirer of your lifetime of work and have filled my homes and my friends homes with it and can't wait to get this, I mean, my God. We mostly eat fresh food and then I'm just like, it smells, it's everywhere.
It's driving me crazy. Alright, Matt, I have a couple last questions I ask everyone that I'm going to get you out of here. Is that all right?
Matt Rogers: Let's do it.
Quinn: Okay. When was the first time in your life when you realized you had the power of change or the power to do something meaningful, like [00:45:00] running for student office when you were a kid, or it could have been when you first started thinking about climate stuff.
It might have been with a couple Boy Scouts or whatever it might have been.
Matt Rogers: The year 2000. My now wife, we weren't married obviously then. We grew up in Florida and we were out with signs campaigning for Al Gore in Florida. And if anyone remembers how close that election was, like, I think about like how individual action matters.
If we had knocked on a couple hundred more doors or if we convinced a couple hundred more people, like what would've happened in the world. Like the butterfly effect of a couple more hours of our time and our friends' time. What could that have done for humanity and look, I was like, gosh, like we got to keep working.
And my wife and I eventually did get married, obviously, and we've dedicated our lives to this fight. And look, our efforts do matter.
Quinn: I love that. That's awesome. Again, like one of the world's most pivotal moments and you were in it.
Matt Rogers: A couple hundred votes. A couple hundred and that's something like, two [00:46:00] teenagers walking around Gainesville, Florida could go do and just we, we could have kept going.
Quinn: Thanks for trying to amend for screwing it up for us all, Matt. I really appreciate it. Who is someone in your life that has positively impacted your work in the past six months?
Matt Rogers: My partner Harry is exceptional and I think about how this company Mill is going to be birthed. Having a partner who has complementary skills is so important.
It's important to have a co-founder. It's a lonely journey and it's really hard. But yeah, Harry is the yin and yang to me, like I'm very instinctual, and Harry is deeply analytical and like we play off each other really well and this company is made better for it because we're working together.
Quinn: I love that. Not always the easiest journey to have instinctual and analytical as I think my wife can probably tell you about me, but it really does matter in the long run. What is a book you've read this year that has either changed your mind on something or actually opened it to some perspective or idea that you hadn't [00:47:00] considered before?
We got a whole list up on Bookshelf for folks.
Matt Rogers: I'd recommend The Alchemy Air. This is a book that's about the fertilizer revolution of a hundred plus years ago. So we used to get fertilizer from poop. Like guano off of South America. And eventually that ran out and the world was faced with like hunger and how to feed humanity.
Like how are we going to get fertilizer? And some really sharp engineers and scientists created the Haber-Bosch process to fix nitrogen from the air to create fertilizer, which ends up being an enormously bad thing for the planet and humanity and emissions and pollution, but it was like a key step to feeding humanity and I think about this next generation of entrepreneurs and scientists and engineers who are going to create alchemy to take CO2 of the air or create nuclear fusion or prevent food waste.
It's just, it's a really good read and it's actually quite inspirational, but also a good reflection on some of the crazy things humanity has done, we used to get fertilizer from poop and that was the only thing we had.
Quinn: Yeah, because where else were you going to get it? It's also, [00:48:00] I think, a really good lesson, and I try to apply this all the time in my home life and this work as well, which is if it's not clear, there's just nuance to everything.
Many things can be true at once whether we want them to be or not. That just is what it is. And fertilizer fed billions of people. You can look at all the charts at Our World In Data and how things have improved and at the same time, just like the Industrial Revolution. Yes, it built the West and the Global North, but very clearly, like the receipts are in and there have been some trade-offs that we've got to deal with.
I love that. I will throw it on my list as well here. Matt, I'm going to get you out of here. You have so many things to do. I really appreciate it so much, man. Where can folks reserve Mill, where can they get in line? How can they support the mission?
Matt Rogers: Go to mill.com.
Read more. Sign up. Get up in our DMs on Instagram like we're always happy to answer questions. Yeah, we'd love to hear from folks.
Quinn: We really appreciate it. Thank you so much for your time here.
Matt Rogers: Indeed. Absolute pleasure.
Quinn: That's it. Important, Not [00:49:00] Important is hosted by me, Quinn Emmett. It is produced by Willow Beck in Canada. It's edited by Anthony Luciani, and the music is by Tim Blaine. You can read our critically acclaimed newsletter and get notified about new podcast firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find t-shirts, hoodies, coffee mugs, all kinds of cool stuff there as well.
I'm on Twitter at Quinn Emmett, or at important not imp. I'm also on LinkedIn and you can find us everywhere else basically. You can find, send us feedback or questions, guest recommendations, whatever you've got on Twitter or probably better at email@example.com. Thanks so much for listening and thanks for giving a shit.
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