A German company is spinning fibres out of milk. Qmilk, was founded by Anke Domaske as she was looking for non-allergenic fabrics for her cancer-sufferer father.
After having seen a YouTube video on milk fibres, she found that the old process was too chemically laden for what she needed but that a more environmentally friendly process could produce a fibre so innocuous you could eat it.
It works “like a big noodle machine,” according to Domaske. “You add the protein powder – it looks like flour – to water and you mix it into a dough. Then there’s a nozzle at the end with teeny tiny holes that put out textile fibres instead of noodles.”
“You can use any kind of milk but the safest, right now, is cow milk that’s just turned sour.
“We need to have it sour to separate the protein. We get ours in powder form from dairies but we’re revamping our collection system. ”
The University of Berlin has found that Germans throw away around 2m tonnes of milk each year. Milk consists of more than 200 vitamins, minerals and proteins that can be processed and turned into resources. If the future of food waste is turning it into something useful, then Qmilk fills a gap in a market that might unwittingly turn a blind eye to sustainable options.
A reliance on sour milk might not seem scaleable but Domaske is adamant that current German dairy waste is enough to dress the whole US in a t-shirt.
It feels like silk and if the mildly erotic promo video on their site is anything to go by, you can stick a naked model in a milk bath and have her come out of it dressed in a flowing Athenian frock. One of its major advantages is it’s antibacterial properties. Like silk, it’s also temperature regulating, light, absorbent, compostable and flame resistant.
“We only need a maximum of two litres of water and an 80°C temperature [to make 1kg of textiles]. We have low waste and the process takes five minutes. Everything in the manufacture of Qmilk uses 100% natural and renewable resources,” Domaske stresses.
“We have a transparent production chain. The press is welcome to film it and we know where all our milk comes from. To be sustainable we understand that people want to look behind the scenes.”
“Our vision is to have a zero waste process that stretches right back to our resources … so who supplies us. What we do at the moment is turn our waste into powder which either goes back into our research or is delivered as a biological additive for the plastic industry.”
“I would like to build our collection system and spread the idea worldwide,” she says in a hurried exchange.
“Milk has over 200 ingredients which gets wasted when milk isn’t sold. I’d like to use this as a resource.”
This article was first published in the Guardian, 17 March 2014.