Innovations and supportive policies : How to make waste management more sustainable

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How to revolutionise the waste stream? That question was at the heart of last week's Boston Globe Sustainability Week. For the fourth year, the newspaper hosted a week-long virtual series of events focused on the climate crisis, current environmental issues, and actionable solutions. Experts from the private and public sectors shared their insights on how we can mitigate this crisis through decisive action and supportive policies.
The recordings are available here.

One discussion stands out. Janet Domenitz, executive director of MASSPIRG, a public interest research group, Jack "Tato" Bigio, co-CEO and co-founder of UBQ Materials, and Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, which lobbies on packaging and recycling issues in the US, began with a simple (?) question: Where is our waste going, and how soon will we run out of space? The three agreed that the status quo is unsustainable and discussed their ideas for revolutionising the waste stream and how it could evolve with innovative technologies and policies. You can watch the full discussion here.

Related topic: Do a circular economy and fast fashion go together?

Waste Management World talked with Mr. Bigio about the event, UBQ Materials and the importance of policies to drive sustainability in waste management.

Why is the event called "Revolutionizing the Waste Stream" important?

The event gave us the opportunity to discuss how innovations like UBQ, coupled with advancements in recycling technology and supportive policy are transforming traditional waste management practices into more sustainable and efficient processes. While we must continue to pursue the traditional paths of reduce, reuse, recycle, to see a true revolution will require innovative solutions that can mitigate the environmental impact of waste and contribute to a circular economy. With core challenges including landfill overflow, environmental pollution, and resource depletion, it will require all stakeholders from waste management to private corporations to governments and individuals to contribute to this transformation.

Jack "Tato" Bigio, co-CEO and co-founder of UBQ Materials
Jack "Tato" Bigio, co-CEO and Co-Founder of UBQ Materials - © UBQ Materials

How does UBQ Materials revolutionise waste management?

UBQ Materials has pioneered a groundbreaking technology that transforms waste, including organics, into a new, sustainable material. Even if recycling infrastructures and other solutions like composting end up capturing 80% of the waste stream – as my fellow panellist Janet Domenitz mentioned was possible in an ideal situation, there will always be residuals – the waste of the waste. UBQ captures this part of the waste stream that has no other option today other than landfill or incineration.
Our process converts organic waste, plastics, paper, and other household refuse into a versatile thermoplastic-like material that can be used in durable applications across building and construction, automotive, consumer durables and supply chain and logistics applications. By diverting waste from landfills and incineration, UBQ Materials ensures that we maximise the value of these materials by bringing them back into use within the economy as a completely new resource that can replace carbon-intense fossil fuel-based plastics in manufacturing.

What other innovative or emerging technologies are used to manage waste more efficiently?

Several innovative technologies are emerging to manage waste more efficiently. For instance, bioconversion technologies utilize microorganisms to decompose organic waste into valuable byproducts such as biogas or fertilizers. There are other emerging startups finding new uses for wood waste and textile waste that help maximize the value of these resources and enable us to reduce further extraction from the planet.

How does government regulation influence waste management practices, both locally and globally?

Government regulation plays a crucial role in shaping waste management practices at local, state and federal levels. Regulatory frameworks establish standards for waste disposal, recycling targets, and pollution control measures. Most importantly, they push businesses and individuals to adopt sustainable practices through taxes, subsidies, and incentives. For the waste stream to be revolutionized, all three of us on the panel agreed that changes to waste management practices have to be at the system level. However, this takes more time than we have to start making a dent in this issue, which is why solutions like UBQ are so crucial. We need technologies that bridge the gap between us regulating, legislating, and actually changing to make an impact faster, and reduce landfill waste today – not only once new legislation comes into play.

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