Cleantech startup that converts waste into eco-friendly plastic nabs $70 million

UBQ develops thermoplastic materials from household trash to make products such as trays for McDonald’s and automotive parts for Daimler; funding to support Europe, US footprint

Sharon Wrobel is a tech reporter for The Times of Israel.

UBQ Materials has developed a technology that takes unsorted household waste -- from banana peels to dirty diapers to used yogurt containers and cardboard -- and converts it into a bio-based thermoplastic -- a plastic substitute (Courtesy)
UBQ Materials has developed a technology that takes unsorted household waste -- from banana peels to dirty diapers to used yogurt containers and cardboard -- and converts it into a bio-based thermoplastic -- a plastic substitute (Courtesy)

Israeli cleantech company UBQ Materials, a maker of bio-based products converted from waste, secured a $70 million investment to further fund its expansion to North America and ahead of the impending opening of its large-scale plant in the Netherlands, the company said Wednesday.

The funding round was led by New York-based private investment firm Eden Global Partners. It included participation from existing investors TPG Rise Climate, the investment arm of American private equity firm TPG; Battery Ventures; and M&G’s Catalyst strategy, a UK-based investor specializing in long-term impact investments.

UBQ has patented a process to convert household trash, organic, paper and plastic — including banana peels, dirty diapers, yogurt containers and cardboard — into a bio-based thermoplastic, or a plastic substitute, that can replace oil-based plastic, wood and concrete in the manufacture of everyday products.

The startup was founded in 2012 by Yehuda Pearl and Jack Bigio, both with a background in business and entrepreneurship, who were inspired by the idea that organic materials could be broken into their natural components to be later transformed into usable material. Pearl is also the founder of the Sabra hummus brand.

The fresh capital takes UBQ’s total funds raised to date to $282 million.

UBQ has existing agreements to provide its thermoplastic materials to make automotive parts with carmakers including Germany’s Daimler, the manufacturer of Mercedes-Benz vehicles; to replace McDonald’s famous plastic trays in Latin America; and to make shipping pallets and displays for PepsiCo, as well as hangers and trash bins.

The firm said the new funding will support its global expansion and commercial sales and marketing efforts, as well as plans to open additional industrial plants in Europe and North America. UBQ is opening its first industrial-scale facility outside of Israel this month. The plant, located in Bergen Op Zoom, Netherlands, will have an annual capacity to produce 80,000 tons of UBQ, converting 104,600 metric tons of waste annually into a new raw material.

UBQ Materials co-founder Jack Bigio at the cleantech startup’s plant at Kibbutz Tze’elim in the south of Israel. (Courtesy)

In Israel, the startup has a small-scale plant in the Negev, at Kibbutz Tze’elim, with the capacity of producing around 7,000 tons of material a year.

“UBQ as a sustainable material option can have a huge impact – but only with mass adoption,” said UBQ Materials co-CEO and chairman Albert Douer. “This means building UBQ facilities on a world scale, which requires significant expansion and funding.

“Adding Eden Global Partners to our heavy-hitting investor list fuels our rapid growth trajectory as we continue to invent new material solutions that will expand humanity’s ability to use waste as a raw material,” Douer added.

Over 3 billion tons of municipal solid waste are expected to be generated annually by 2050 around the world as waste management solutions continue to contribute to climate change, according to a report by Statista. Landfills are the third-largest human source of methane, a greenhouse gas which is more than 20 times as potent for global warming as carbon dioxide, according to the World Bank.

Every kilogram of Israeli-manufactured UBQ material replaces 1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) of oil-based plastic, preventing up to 11.7 kg of CO₂ emissions – measured over a 20-year time horizon – from being created by keeping 1.3 kg of waste out of landfills and incinerators, according to the company.

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