This start-up can turn dirty nappies into sustainable plastics

(Credit: Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Victoria Masterson, Senior Writer, Formative Content

  • About 2 billion tons of household waste is generated a year.
  • Almost 70% of it is sent to landfill or openly dumped.
  • Tel Aviv company UBQ can recycle household garbage into reusable plastics.
  • This can be used in the manufacture of products including furniture, car parts and construction materials (such as bricks).

Bags full of garbage going to landfill is a big contributor to climate change.

Treating and disposing of this waste – from diapers to drinks containers – creates about 5% a year of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to World Bank data on solid waste.

What if our household trash – including food, dirty nappies and mixed plastics – could be recycled instead of going to landfill?

This is the vision of Israeli startup UBQ Materials.

The company, based in Tel Aviv, is developing a way to turn household waste – including food residue, mixed plastics, card, paper and even dirty diapers – into a form of fully recyclable plastic.

The material can “substitute conventional plastic, wood and concrete” in thousands of everyday products, UBQ says.

This includes construction goods like pipes and bricks and transport items like shipping pallets. It is also being used in furniture, auto parts and 3D printing, the company adds.

Saved from landfill

To create this material, household waste – apart from metals and minerals – is dried and shredded. Organic waste is broken down into its molecular components – like cellulose and sugar – and then reassembled and bound with the mixed plastics. This creates a thermoplastic material.

Thermoplastics are types of plastic that can be melted and made into new products. UBQ says its material is ‘bio-based’ – meaning most of its content comes from organic matter.

By diverting household waste from landfills, UBQ says it is preventing the emission of methane, ground water leakage and other toxins.

Disposable nappies are among the materials that can be used to create UBQ’s thermoplastic material. Nappies are especially hard to recycle because they are made from mixed materials, including plastic. They can take up to 450 years to break down in the ocean, according to America’s ocean monitoring and weather forecasting agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Biodegradable and reusable alternatives are growing in popularity.

About 2 billion tons of solid waste are generated a year, according to World Bank data. This is predicted to grow 70% by 2050. Landfill and open dumping accounts for almost 70% of solid waste disposal – as shown in the lower three sections of the chart below. Only around 19% is recycled or composted.

Global waste composition

a chart showing what landfill waste is made up of
Landfill and open dumping accounts for almost 70% of solid waste disposal. Only around 19% is recycled or composted. Image: What A Waste 2.0, The World Bank


What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?

More than 90% of plastic is never recycled, and a whopping 8 million metric tons of plastic waste are dumped into the oceans annually. At this rate, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s oceans by 2050.

The Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) is a collaboration between businesses, international donors, national and local governments, community groups and world-class experts seeking meaningful actions to beat plastic pollution.

In Ghana, for example, GPAP is working with technology giant SAP to create a group of more than 2,000 waste pickers and measuring the quantities and types of plastic that they collect. This data is then analysed alongside the prices that are paid throughout the value chain by buyers in Ghana and internationally.

It aims to show how businesses, communities and governments can redesign the global “take-make-dispose” economy as a circular one in which products and materials are redesigned, recovered and reused to reduce environmental impacts.

Read more in our impact story.

Steps forward
Throwaway ‘single use’ plastics are a key contributor to plastic pollution. UBQ hopes to help combat this in a trial with fast food chain McDonald’s. In 20 Brazilian state capitals, 30 McDonald’s restaurants replaced old plastic trays with 7,200 serving trays made with UBQ. It is hoped the first stage of the trial will cut more than 3,000kg of carbon.

a chart showing what UBQ materials are made from
UBQ Materials says its recycling tech can turn household trash bags into new products made from sustainable thermoplastic. Image: UBQ

UBQ is building its first full-scale production facility in the Netherlands. When this is complete in 2022, it hopes to produce 70,000 tons of its thermoplastic a year.

Developing and scaling sustainable technologies can take time. For example, LEGO tested more than 250 materials over three years before developing a new prototype brick made from recycled plastic bottles.

Global innovation

But there’s no one single solution to solving the issue of plastic pollution.

‘Upstream’ solutions (pre-consumer, such as material redesign, plastic reduction, and substitution) and ‘downstream’ solutions (postconsumer, such as recycling and disposal) must be integrated finds the Breaking the Plastic Wave report.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Plastic Innovation Network (GPIN) is an open collaboration platform designed to harness the power of innovation and accelerate high-impact solutions that can help eradicate plastic pollution.

It is supported by the Global Plastic Action Partnership (GPAP) and hosted by UpLink, the Forum’s open innovation crowdsourcing platform.

The network takes a holistic approach to addressing plastic pollution, inviting innovators, investors and other innovation enablers to engage across five plastic action focus areas: waste prevention, materials and product design, waste management and recovery, ecosystem data and transparency, and engaging society.

Recyclable thermoplastics might just be one piece of the puzzle to reducing plastic waste and plastic’s carbon footprint.

the sting Milestones

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

European Commission: the LED lights of your Audi A6 shall save our planet

A new approach to scaling-up renewable power in emerging markets

Ensure that widows are ‘not left out or left behind’, UN chief urges on International Day

COVID-19 wave III and the lessons learned

Threats from mammoth banks and Brussels fuel May’s poll rates

EU and Amazon cut deal to end antitrust investigation over e-books deals

MEPs urge EU countries to be transparent about their COVID-19 vaccine supplies

Here’s how private investors can turn plastic into gold

Still a long way to go to achieve gender equality in all EU countries

Africa is set to get its first vertical forest

‘Millions facing starvation’ – Global political and business leaders on the economic impact of COVID-19

How the gender commuting gap could be harming women’s careers

Will 2020 be the year blockchain overcomes its hype?

Progress in medical research: leading or lagging behind?

Bacteria vs. humans: how to fight in this world war?

The future of energy is being shaped in Asia

What we know and what we don’t know about universal basic income

The first new university in the UK for 40 years is taking a very different approach to education

OECD household income up 0.7% in first quarter of 2018, outpacing GDP growth

First seat projections for the next European Parliament

The energy industry is changing. Are governments switched on?

What is the IMF telling Eurozone about fiscal and banking unification?

Trump ‘used’ G20 to side with Putin and split climate and trade packs

Re-thinking citizenship education: bringing young people back to the ballot box

Commission issues guidance on the participation of third country bidders in the EU procurement market

Car rentals: EU action leads to clearer and more transparent pricing

What’s going on in Chernobyl today?

Here’s how we get businesses to harmonize on climate change

Why are the Balkans’ political leaders meeting in Geneva this week?

Support for EU remains at historically high level despite sceptics

US pardons for accused war criminals, contrary to international law: UN rights office

European Business Summit 2015: In search of a vision for the future

Brexit casts a shadow over the LSE – Deutsche Börse merger: a tracer of how or if brexit is to be implemented

Migrants and refugees face higher risk of developing ill-health, says UN report on displaced people in Europe

Autumn 2019 Standard Eurobarometer: immigration and climate change remain main concerns at EU level

Stop the waste: UN food agencies call for action to reduce global hunger

The term AI overpromises. Let’s make machine learning work better for humans instead

How blended finance helped to keep energy supplies flowing during COVID-19

What will a post-pandemic economy look like? Here’s what chief economists expect

Innovation is the key to the pay-TV industry’s long-term growth

Mergers: Commission approves GlaxoSmithKline’s acquisition of Pfizer’s Consumer Health Business, subject to conditions

Coronavirus: Commission launches call for innovative response and recovery partnerships between EU regions

Parliament names radio studio after journalists murdered in December attack

4 things to know about the state of conflict today

World-famous cultural institutions closed due to coronavirus are welcoming virtual visitors

As Houthi forces withdraw from key Yemeni ports, UN monitoring chief welcomes ‘first practical step on the ground’

Get out, stay out: how financial resilience helps end poverty

The ‘ASEAN way’: what it is, how it must change for the future

30 years of tissue engineering, what has been achieved?

Businesses are lacking moral leadership, according to employees

Mental health and suicide prevention

‘Perseverance is key’ to Iraq’s future, UN envoy tells Security Council

Belgium: Youth Forum takes legal step to ban unpaid internships

European Commission recommends common EU approach to the security of 5G networks

The Future of Balkans: Embracing Education

The European Parliament fails to really restrict the rating agencies

Gas pipeline in the European Union. (Copyright: EU, 2012 / Source: EC - Audiovisual Service / Photo: Ferenc Isza)

EU Investment Bank approves € 1.5bn loan for Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP)

Could Europe become the first climate-neutral continent?

Venezuela’s needs ‘significant and growing’ UN humanitarian chief warns Security Council, as ‘unparalleled’ exodus continues

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s