Mill’s redesigned food waste bin is truly faster and quieter than before

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When someone says a product is “new and improved,” it’s wise to take it with a grain of salt. But with Mill’s redesigned food waste bin you can believe it.

As before, the bin accepts a wide variety of food waste (only a handful of items like oyster shells are off-limits) and grinds and dries it to a consistency similar to coarse coffee grounds. These soils can be mixed with garden soil, spread on lawns or even returned to them Mill, who then offer it to farmers as chicken feed. A household using the trash can is expected to reduce about half a ton of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

So what’s different? Just about everything.

Where the old bin worked as promised, it wasn’t always as quiet or fast as I would have liked, sometimes taking almost a day to complete a cycle of drying and grinding the food. That is not the case with the new one, which I tested in recent weeks. Every night at 10pm my tank would start a cycle, and by the time I woke up it would always be ready, just as co-founder Matt Rogers promised me. In addition, it is considerably quieter and watching TV in the evening is no longer disturbed.

Here’s how Mill did it.

The design brief was simple, says Kristen Virdone, Mill’s head of product: each cycle had to be completed before breakfast. With that guideline and a year’s worth of data in hand, the team got to work.

The lid has been redesigned, leaving a recess for the lock button and status lights, which have been moved to the base.
Image credits: Mill Industries

From the outside, the new Mill box doesn’t look that different. The visual changes are so subtle that you have to pay close attention to notice them, such as when automakers change a model’s headlights to freshen its appearance. Probably the biggest aesthetic change is the fact that the status lights no longer shine through the wood-grain plastic lid, a neat bit of shy technology that I kind of miss.

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Under the lid, one of the biggest changes users will notice is that the augers that grind the waste are now vertical instead of horizontal. This change allowed the team to make the bottom of the bucket flat instead of round, making it easier for the augers to clear clear. It also helped eliminate unwanted sounds. Previously, the augers dragged food waste across the curved bottom, creating what the Mill team called “haunted house noises.” (To me it always sounded like a creaking and groaning pirate ship.) The new configuration exorcised those demons.

The vertical arrangement also gave the design team the opportunity to add small paddles to the top that users can rotate to loosen the soil while emptying the bucket.

The bucket itself is now entirely made of metal. The previous one had some plastic parts, which allowed less heat to be transferred from the heating element to the food waste, thus increasing drying times. To help the coffee grounds slide out, the bucket is lined with a PFAS/PFOA-free ceramic coating.

The grinder's food waste bin is open with the coffee grounds inside.
New vertically oriented augers help grind food more quietly. Additionally, it allows for small paddles on the top that can be rotated to help loosen the terrain during emptying.
Image credits: Mill Industries

To further reduce cycle times, the Mill team was able to use machine learning algorithms trained on data collected over the past year, Virdone said. As a result, the new software knows more intelligently how long each cycle should take.

Each bin also has an array of sensors, just like the previous version, but now the team has enough data to distinguish between the weight of one strawberry and four raspberries, says Suzy Sammons, head of communications at Mill. Two humidity sensors, one on the air inlet and one on the exhaust, help the bin understand exactly how long each drying cycle should take.

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“If you think about it, there are endless combinations of foods that can go in our bins,” Virdone says. “Now that we’ve had a year and real families have added really weird combinations of foods, we’re starting to see the limits of what’s in there.”

The fans have also been completely redesigned, Virdone told JS. They are quieter and their location in the bin has been reconsidered with a view to minimizing the amount of noise escaping from the unit. Overall, the changes have worked well. The new device’s fan noise was significantly reduced during my testing.

The only thing I noticed in the new bin is an electrically activated lid. On the old model, pressing the foot pedal would signal a motor to quickly lift the lid. It was strangely satisfying to use, and my kids loved it too. The new one is a more traditional clutch-operated lid that is physically connected to the pedal, like a stereotypical kitchen trash can. Virdone said user testing showed people preferred the mechanical lid as it was more intuitive than the motorized version.

Just like the old box, the new one needs a socket nearby. In our home, this means that the bin is technically in the living room, just steps away from the kitchen sink. In practice it works fine, although it looks a bit out of place when you’re sitting on the couch. If I wanted to make a permanent home for it, I would want to find a home for it somewhere in the kitchen, and perhaps add an electrical outlet.

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Other than that, the only thing keeping me from buying one is the price. At $360 a year it’s not cheap, especially compared to the unsubsidized compost service in my city, which is a third of the cost. Mill’s new price is about 10% cheaper than before, provided you have a place to dump the lot. If you don’t, you’ll need to add $10 per month to pick it up. It is possible that the price will drop if Mill can negotiate subsidies through municipalities. Currently, Pittsburgh and Tacoma, Washington are the only cities that have deals with Mill.

Given the current costs, the Mill waste bin is still not suitable for everyone. But for households that don’t have a composting service, or don’t like the smell that comes with it, it’s a great product that just got even better.

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