Wil Sillen's post

Wil Sillen

3 w

Almost too good to be true: this company makes a plastic substitute from unseparated household waste

By: André Oerlemans
Will household waste separation at home still be necessary in the future? The Israeli company UBQ Materials can turn our unsorted, full garbage bags into a plastic substitute that can be used for everything: in Mercedes cars to McDonald's trays. At the end of this year, the company will open its first large factory in Bergen op Zoom the Netherlands.
Once operational, the plant will be able to process more than 104,000 tons of waste into 80,000 tons of UBQ material per year. That is as much as the inhabitants of a city like Eindhoven throw away in a year. UBQ Materials is the first company in the world that can make a so-called biobased thermoplastic from organic and non-recyclable household waste. With an advanced process, the company converts all mixed waste - from food scraps and mixed plastics to cardboard, paper and even dirty diapers - into a sustainable alternative to plastic. Ultimately, the installation in the factory produces granules, UBQ, a climate-positive raw material from which many different products can be made.

How is this possible?
The technology seems too good to be true. Is this possible? That is the most frequently asked question to Rachel Barr, vice president of sustainability at UBQ Materials. “This is an innovative technology and a great solution. Our mission is to end the waste problem, but there is no magic bullet for that,” she says. “We first remove everything that can be recycled from the waste stream, such as metals and minerals. That is not necessary for the technology, but otherwise we violate our own sustainability principles. What remains goes into UBQ.”

Perfect symbiosis
The remaining household waste mainly contains organic material and non-recyclable plastic. Although it concerns a heterogeneous waste stream, the ratio is fairly constant. The installation breaks down the organic material into lignin or wood dust and cellulose, which is basically a biological type of plastic. The plastic remnants bind to those organic chains to form a new type of plastic. This is how UBQ manages to turn it into a homogeneous product.

The name comes from the English word ubiquitous, which means ubiquitous. “By that we mean that waste is present everywhere in the world, but also that our raw material must be able to be used for everything,” says Barr.

In cars and building materials
The patented UBQ can be used for various applications, such as plastic dog houses or household products. The company has customers in the automotive industry, such as Mercedes, but also supplies its product to McDonald's, PepsiCo, AB InBev and various companies in the chemical industry.

Barr insists that UBQ is a biobased thermoplastic, a material that is used in plastic car parts, furniture and PVC pipes, among other things. It is a good, sustainable replacement for this type of plastic. It saves scarce raw materials, prevents methane emissions abroad from landfills, reduces CO2 emissions in the Netherlands when incinerating waste and helps with the reduction and reuse of waste on the way to a circular economy. Although UBQ is safe, it may not yet be used in products that come into contact with food. This has to do with the mandatory end-of-waste status, which it is difficult for these types of raw materials to obtain. That is why the material is currently only used as a replacement for hard plastic.
Why factory in the Netherlands?
UBQ tested the technology in a pilot plant in Israel and last year started building a state-of-the-art production facility in Bergen op Zoom in Brabant, including an R&D laboratory and an experience center. The company is currently recruiting the 140 employees it needs, mainly operators. Why did the company choose the Netherlands? And why for Bergen op Zoom?

Barr: “In the Netherlands, circular economy and technologies against climate change have priority. For us, the country is really a model of that. West Brabant wants to play a leading role in the transition to a new economy. It is important for us to be part of that industrial ecosystem.”

She points to the presence of other companies in West Brabant that produce or process plastic, chemical and manufacturing companies. The region is also centrally located in the EU and there are several ports in the area. “Here is the waste and our partners. So the choice makes sense,” she says.

  • Evangeline Wanjiru

    3 w

    Awesome way to re-invent waste

    • Tabitha Kimani

      3 w

      The world has a lot of waste. This is a great technology to turn waste into a resourceful raw material.

      • Rukia Ahmed Abdi

        3 w


        • ance Star

          3 w


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