EXCLUSIVE WITH UBQ’S JACK (TATO) BIGIO: Less waste, more haste
EXCLUSIVE WITH UBQ’S JACK (TATO) BIGIO: Less waste, more haste
June 12, 2019
Nick Bradley examines the potential of UBQ with Jack (Tato) Bigio, which has the potential to take landfill waste and turn it into a valuable resource. The sooner this recycling miracle is implemented the better, for the sake of our plastic-filled planet
When sitting down with Jack (Tato) Bigio to discuss plastic waste filling our oceans, you don’t expect the UBQ Materials chief to suddenly invoke “the great horse manure crisis of 1894”. But that’s Bigio. “Just like then, humanity cannot accept crossing the ‘point of no return’,” says the co-founder and CEO of the Israel-based waste specialist firm. “We do not have a backup planet and must solve this crisis as we have solved others before.”
I had to Google the manure crisis but quickly picked up his trail. It seems that back in Victorian times, Londoners were so concerned about horse dung piling up on the cobbled streets that one article in The Times predicted 9ft of the stuff would accumulate over 50 years. Then came the car, and thus went the crisis.
Bigio’s point is as optimistic as it is provocative. Problems that drive some to despair can be rendered irrelevant by others whose different way of thinking begets new technologies and creative approaches. So perhaps the plastic crisis, as insuperable as it currently appears, can be itself laid to waste.
“The trick is not to replace a problem with solutions that create waste or pollution,” Bigio stresses.
A conversation with Bigio is one of those rare occasions where one confronts a big idea with an addictively simple premise, and as the layers of scepticism melt away, you’re left wondering how fast this can scale, and how soon everyone on the planet will know. “At UBQ, we’re not so much focused on plastics treatment or recycling, but the waste crisis as a whole,” he continues. Such a holistic outlook has led to the development and global patenting of UBQ’s Advanced Waste Conversion Technology (AWCT), which to the layman is the stuff of science fiction. It’s reminiscent of ‘Mr Fusion’ – Dr. Emmet L. Brown’s waste-to-energy gizmo from Back To The Future II.
Our AWCT breaks down and combines virtually all household waste – everything from mixed plastic and chicken bones to dirty diapers, cardboard and paper – and converts it into a new raw material
“Our AWCT breaks down and combines virtually all household waste – everything from mixed plastic and chicken bones to dirty diapers, cardboard and paper – and converts it into a new raw material, UBQ Materials (or ‘UBQ’), to make everyday goods,” Bigio says. “It’s a composite with thermoplastic properties that can be used in place of – or in combination with – plastic and other raw materials to make everything from municipal trash cans, fast-food trays and shopping carts to shipping pallets and flowerpots, to name just a few.”
UBQ’s processing makes use of the entire MSW, with the only separation needed being to pull out metals, which have a higher recycling value. In the business, this is what’s called a truly circular model of zero waste. “Our process and product are both economically viable and provide a cost-efficient polymer displacer to the plastics industry,” he says. In everyday language, the solution is plan and play. Companies involved in the production of plastic goods don’t even have to change their processes or production tools.”
Quantis, an international sustainability leader that developed our LCA, refers to UBQ as ‘the most climate-positive material on the planet’
The icing on top of this cake is that the process and the material are climate positive. “By preventing the decomposition of organic materials in landfills, we avoid poisonous methane emissions. Our Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) shows a reduction of 11.7 tons of CO2 equivalent for every ton of UBQ material produced. On an industrial scale, using a ton of UBQ in place of a ton of virgin polypropylene can save the environment about 15 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions. There’s no other material with a similar contribution. Quantis, an international sustainability leader that developed our LCA, refers to UBQ as ‘the most climate-positive material on the planet’. The process is energy efficient, uses no water and produces zero effluents or fumes.”
UBQ’s pilot industrial plant, south of the company’s Tel Aviv HQ, has a 5,000-ton-a-year capacity and is already selling its material to companies and municipalities around the world. Moreover, Bigio and his team are currently planning for a US industrial facility with a capacity of 80,000-100,000 tons a year. “The UBQ process is modular,” he points out, “so it can easily be scaled and adapted to meet the requirements of any location. We receive our MSW from a transfer station, after recyclers have selected and removed some of the more valuable materials, which diverts the residual waste from being sent to landfill while providing recyclers with a more efficient, cost-effective and clean way to dispose of its unrecyclable streams. We’re complementing recycling rather than competing with it,” he says.
As that implies, UBQ’s solution has been developed to be robust enough to serve markets where the waste is either partially sorted or not sorted at all. “We’re big advocates of curbside sorting and collection,” Bigio says, “which has major potential and should be applied worldwide. Should we be able to receive more refined and sorted waste streams, we would be able to further develop different sustainable bio-based material formulations.”
The world of sustainability has heard it all – from alchemists to magicians – but at the end of the day, industry wants a scientific process that’s reliable, price-competitive, safe and has clear specifications
Technical questions and generic probing about plastic pollution aside, what I really wanted to know is why every waste facility in the world hasn’t already got one of these setups. “The main challenge is to meet expectations, overcome disbelief and leverage our technological edge,” responds Bigio. “The world of sustainability has heard it all – from alchemists to magicians – but at the end of the day, industry wants a scientific process that’s reliable, price-competitive, safe and has clear specifications. Once the hurdle of disbelief is overcome, industry will adopt our materials as sustainable alternatives to oil- and plant-based materials. This process will be accelerated by growing awareness and a true intention on the part of the global corporations and brands to reduce their carbon footprint and provide more sustainable products to customers.
“Our target is to get on the radar of potential implementers of our materials, to be recognized as a viable alternative for plastics, and to create alliances to speed up UBQ’s expansion,” says Bigio, whose company will be taking part in a panel discussion session at the forthcoming Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2019. “The industry is conservative, standards are rigid, and the consumer is not necessarily willing to pay more. These facts – and the necessary capital and time investments – work against emerging technologies being able to displace products and processes in plastics.”
The industry is conservative, standards are rigid, and the consumer is not necessarily willing to pay more. These facts – and the necessary capital and time investments – work against emerging technologies being able to displace products and processes in plastics
Nevertheless, Bigio willingly acknowledges the increasing decibel levels surrounding solutions that claim to effectively transform waste into a resource and he feels that the noise tends to be more about marketing than substance. “The real industry players from both the waste and materials (including plastics) sides don’t consider many of the technologies to be either economically viable or scalable,” he feels. “What ‘noise’ you hear should be better leveraged to create partnerships for the solutions that do work, enabling them to gain traction and achieve adoption. Working with large-scale players that have both a need and interest to help them communicate their value with operational impact.”
“Waste is and will continue to be an issue for the foreseeable future,” Bigio continues. “There’s more than 2 billion tons of MSW produced annually and without a major paradigm shift connecting readily available solutions, major industry partners and governmental agencies, there is little potential for real change. If these solutions garner the much-needed implementation in such a collaborative landscape – either locally or globally, big or small – only then can we start to transform the notion of waste into an asset that is a valuable renewable resource.”
So where does this leave UBQ? Since 2015, the company has completed the development of the industrial process, completed (and granted) worldwide patents for both the UBQ Process and UBQ Materials, finalized the health and safety evaluation and certifications with Vireo Advisors in Boston, and completed an LCA with Quantis of Switzerland. The company is additionally ‘B-Certified’, which distinguishes it as a soundly managed socially responsible business. None of this would have been possible without the investment and support of its partners and the guidance and involvement of its international advisory board.
“We envision an extensive UBQ footprint, with a plant in every possible location, turning waste into a new natural resource for the industry, to replace scarce and expensive commodities such as plastic or wood,” he says. “UBQ Materials are climate positive and price competitive – a unique proposition that truly differentiates and cannot be ignored.”
We envision an extensive UBQ footprint, with a plant in every possible location, turning waste into a new natural resource for the industry, to replace scarce and expensive commodities such as plastic or wood
Bigio is ready to roll right now, but realizes that meaningful change cannot happen overnight, hence he empathizes with the huge firms taking the brunt of criticism from the green lobby. “Plastics are a cheap way of creating good and valuable products,” he says. “The problem we’re facing is not with plastics, but plastic waste. Instead of being recycled, it piles up in our landfills and oceans. But you can see that companies are now showing a stronger commitment to the environment – IKEA, for instance, has said that by 2022 it will not be using virgin plastics – and brands need to cope with high consumer sensitivity, especially from millennials. We’re talking right now with companies that are committed to making these changes.
“There’s no magic button that large companies such as Unilever or McDonald’s can push. Manufacturing processes and supply chains need to be adapted and raw material acquisition strategies must be put in place. So structural change takes time, so the only way to advance it is to raise its priority. That’s why materials such as UBQ are of interest – because industry can simply use it as a drop-in alternative to what they’re already using.”
No product should be single-use. All products should be used again. The issue isn’t really plastics versus wood versus biodegradable materials. Re-use and circularity is the holistic issue
“Ultimately, plastics are widely used because of cost-effectiveness, utility and great performance,” Bigio concludes. “If we want to enact change, we must look at the underlying cause and reverse the way we approach the logistical value chain: no product should be single-use. All products should be used again. The issue isn’t really plastics versus wood versus biodegradable materials. Re-use and circularity is the holistic issue.”
Jack (Tato) Bigio’s vice-president of Business Development & Sales, Sophie Tuviahu, will be taking part in a panel discussion at Plastic Free World Conference & Expo 2019 focusing on the chemical recycling of plastics. What are these technologies and what is the potential? Come to the conference to find out for yourself. To register, click here