Israeli firm says it can turn garbage into plastic
Kibbutz Zeelim, Israel – Hawks, vultures and storks circle overhead as Christopher Sveen points at the heap of refuse rotting in the desert heat. “This is the mine of the future,” he beams.
Sveen is chief sustainability officer at UBQ, an Israeli company that has patented a process to convert household trash, diverting waste from landfills into reusable bio-based plastic.
After five years of development, the company is bringing its operations online, with hopes of revolutionizing waste management and being a driver to make landfills obsolete. It remains to be seen, however, if the technology really works and is commercially viable.
UBQ operates a pilot plant and research facility on the edge of southern Israel’s Negev Desert, where it has developed its production line.
“We take something that is not only not useful, but that creates a lot of damage to our planet, and we’re able to turn it into the things we use every day,” said Albert Douer, UBQ’s executive chairman. He said UBQ’s material can be used as a substitute for conventional petrochemical plastics and wood, reducing oil consumption and deforestation.
UBQ has raised $30 million from private investors, including Douer, who is also chief executive of Ajover Darnel Group, an international plastics conglomerate.
Leading experts and scientists serve on its advisory board, including Nobel Prize chemist Roger Kornberg, Hebrew University biochemist Oded Shoseyov, author and entrepreneur John Elkington and Connie Hedegaard, a former European Commissioner for Climate Action.
The small plant can process one ton of municipal waste per hour, a relatively small amount that would not meet the needs of even a midsize city. But UBQ says that given the modularity, it can be quickly expanded.
On a recent day, UBQ Chief Executive Tato Bigio stood alongside bales of sorted trash hauled in from a local landfill.
He said recyclable items like glass, metals and minerals are extracted and sent for further recycling, while the remaining garbage – “banana peels, the chicken bones and the hamburger, the dirty plastics, the dirty cartons, the dirty papers” – is dried and milled into a powder.
The steely gray powder then enters a reaction chamber, where it is broken down and reconstituted as a bio-based plastic-like composite material. UBQ says its closely-guarded patented process produces no greenhouse gas emissions or residual waste byproducts, and uses little energy and no water.