The Richmond region will become the national showcase for an innovative technology that an Israeli company says will transform household waste — everything, including kitchen scraps — into “the greenest thermoplastic material on the planet.”
But the initial foray by UBQ Materials into the U.S. market has much higher stakes for Virginia than the 2,000 recycled recycling bins that the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority will distribute to households in the region for the usual bottles, cans and wastepaper collected at curbside.
The company, based in Tel Aviv, is looking in Virginia and other states for a potential site to build its first U.S. production plant that will turn garbage into a composite material that plastic manufacturers can use, instead of petroleum-based products, for a wide range of applications.
“Virginia has been such a good friend to me personally and the company I work with. I would like to make every effort to have the new company in Virginia,” Yehuda Pearl, co-founder and honorary chairman of UBQ, said at a Wednesday announcement at the Capitol.
Pearl is familiar to the Richmond area as the founder of Sabra Dipping Co., a New York company that opened a hummus factory in Chesterfield County in 2010 and completed its latest expansion early this year.
The seed for the deal between UBQ (shorthand for “ubiquitous”) and the regional waste management authority was planted last spring, when Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, and House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, traveled to Israel with Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring on an economic development mission brokered by the Virginia Israel Advisory Board.
“We have one common goal, and that is economic development,” Norment said of the bipartisan cooperation with the administration of Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat.
The majority leader playfully prodded Pearl to take the next step to bring UBQ headquarters to Virginia with a plant to manufacture plastic pellets made from recycled garbage.
“I am sure you will find the proper way to encourage that,” Pearl told Norment, who sits on the special legislative subcommittee that vets sizable state incentive packages for big economic investments here.
Tato Bigio, CEO and co-founder of UBQ, didn’t make any promises, but said after the announcement that the company’s first manufacturing plant could create as many as 250 jobs and invest as much as $80 million wherever it lands.
The site will need three things, he said — access to a reliable stream of garbage, a suitable industrial site, and the nearby presence of plastics manufacturers to buy the biologically based product that will be manufactured there.
“There are very good opportunities to establish a plant here in Virginia,” Bigio said, setting a timeline for construction sometime next year.
For now, the story is the product itself, which he acknowledged “sounds too good to be true.”
The company’s technology takes all kinds of waste — banana peels, chicken bones, dirty diapers and cardboard — and reduces them to elemental fibers on a matrix that turns them into a composite material that can be used to manufacture a variety of products, including recycling bins.
The idea is to keep garbage out of landfills and waste incinerators, reducing both methane and carbon dioxide emissions linked to climate change.
“Our mission fits perfectly with the mission of UBQ,” said Kim Hynes, executive director of the waste management authority, which provides curbside recycling for about 1.5 million people in the Richmond region. “We are super excited to be part of this game-changing opportunity.”