By 2050, global production of municipal solid waste is expected to increase from a huge 2.01 billion tons per year to a colossal 3.4 billion tons per year. As the world throws more away, global plastic production and consumption is also rising sharply, expected to soar from 350 million tons to 1.35 billion tons annually by 2050.
Despite increasing efforts to recycle unwanted household goods, the destination for the vast majority of solid waste is some form of landfill, causing methane and other damaging greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere. While increased waste production and plastic demands both provide significant causes for concern, one Israeli company’s innovative technology promises a solution to both worrying trends simultaneously.
UBQ, based in Kibbutz Tze’elim, emerged last year from stealth mode to unveil its solution of converting unsorted household waste into a sustainable, bio-based, climate-positive thermoplastic material that can be used for commercial and industrial products instead of petroleum-based plastics. Dubbed as “the most climate-positive material on the planet” by sustainability strategists Quantis International, the company is garnering significant international attention.
“We have created a new natural resource from the household waste that ends up in landfills, avoiding its decomposition into harmful gases, while replacing scarce and expensive plastic materials made from oil,” UBQ co-founder and chief executive Jack (Tato) Bigio told The Jerusalem Post. “That’s a blessing to the industry. Many companies in the last 10 to 20 years have emerged with solutions that turn out to be flops in one way or another. Never again,” he said.
Unlike the climate-negative plastics that dominate the market, such as polyethylene, PVC and polypropylene, producing 1 kg. of UBQ material saves 11.7 kg. of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions and a total replacement offset value of 14.5 kg.
In other terms, producing one ton of UBQ is equivalent to stopping the melting of 35 sq-m. of arctic ice, or the sequestration of 540 trees over 10 years old.
One industrial-level operational UBQ facility, with a capacity of producing 80,000 tons per year, is equivalent to taking over 565,000 cars off the road for a single year.
Produced from unsorted household waste, the worldwide-patented bio-based product is a homogeneous composite material that can be mixed with plastic resins in the end-product plastic industry.
“One of first rules of sustainability is being cash-flow positive,” said UBQ chief sustainability officer Christopher Sveen. “If you want to change markets, you need to have an economic incentive. People will be incentivized by environmental propositions, but financial competitive nature accelerates the adoption cycles. We’re less expensive than plastics that come from oil.”
A glance at the company’s international and scientific advisory board is likely to instill confidence in customers. It includes Nobel Prize winner Prof. Roger Kornberg, celebrated nano-tech specialist Prof. Oded Shoseyov, leading patent practitioner Dr. Ilan Cohen, sustainability pioneer John Elkington, and former EU commissioner for climate action Connie Hedegaard.
Leading investors in UBQ include Sabra Dipping Co. founder Yehuda Pearl; Ajover Group CEO Albert Douer, the owner of 16 plastic factories in eight countries; and Battery Ventures general partner Scott Tobin.
Nir Kantor, the director of the Chemical, Pharmaceutical and Environmental Society at the Manufacturers Association of Israel (MAI), told the Post that environmental challenges present an important opportunity for the development of new Israeli technologies, as demonstrated by UBQ’s new material.
“In an era where effective solutions are needed for all types of waste, and the crucial need to prevent landfills, advanced technologies such as the UBQ technology, a sustainable solution for waste treatment, are required, providing not only efficient and sustainable recycling but also a new and competitive new raw material to the market,” Kantor said.
UBQ is currently working with some of the world’s leading food giants, DIY companies, automotive manufacturers, and construction companies to implement UBQ technology in their products. Next month, in a first collaboration with US authorities, the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority will distribute an initial order of 2,000 recycling bins to citizens, all made out of UBQ’s recycled material.
“What UBQ is doing is taking all these valuable materials that are thrown away and bringing them back to life in an up-cycling way,” said Bigio. “We’re replacing a very expensive and scarce resource, and all of a sudden coming much closer to a truly circular economy. The value proposition is incredible.”
Seeking to grow quickly from its modest Tze’elim home, UBQ is hoping to expand via partnerships with major companies and license its technology, playing a large role in filling the increased demand for plastic materials.
“The modularity, scalability and adaptability of the UBQ solution really enables us to go into a market where there’s a huge amount of waste or less, if we need to tailor to particular industries,” said Sveen. “It is unique to be able to have so much flexibility on both the upstream (waste) and downstream (raw material and final product). That uniqueness will enable the company to expand to such a large scale in decades to come, to be in all areas.”
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