Palestinians must change policies

The Palestinian Dilemma | by Tony Blair

Tony Blair, Project Syndicate

The peace plan proposed by the United States has been praised and damned in line with political affiliation. But no matter what plan is put forward, the Palestinians must change their strategy. Otherwise, the pattern of recent decades, in which every new offer is worse than the last, will be repeated.

LONDON – I have been involved, in one way or another, in the Middle East peace process for 12 years. I rarely write about it, because anything said in public usually offends someone. But the publication of the long-awaited American plan for peace is an occasion to take stock.

I am one of the few people who still believes the creation of a state of Palestine is both desirable and feasible. Most commentators now greet the idea with a hollow laugh. Many Israelis and Palestinians have given up on it.

I haven’t, because of my conviction – perhaps irrational – that reason ultimately prevails. The Israelis should not want to govern Palestinians in perpetuity. The Palestinians need freedom from occupation and the dignity of statehood. And a bi-national state is a solution which solves nothing. To achieve it would require Israel’s consent, which will never be forthcoming. So, an independent and sovereign Palestinian state remains the only reasonable way out of the conflict.

I can think of a thousand things Israel should do to make a Palestinian state more likely. But the truth is that such a state will come into being only if there is a fundamental shift in Palestinian strategy.

For many in the international community, even putting the issue in those terms is insulting and unfair to Palestinians. They feel deeply sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, pointing to the vast wealth disparity between Israelis and Palestinians, the appalling living conditions in Gaza, the restrictions on West Bank Palestinians’ daily life, and the governance of Jerusalem.

But the Palestinians don’t need a strategy for sympathy. They need a strategy for statehood, and their current path will not lead them to it. Their biggest supporters internationally have also impeded the development of a serious strategy, because they encourage the Palestinian leadership to focus solely on the historical justice of the cause rather than on the reality of the political environment in which justice must be delivered. The resolutions, gestures of support, and rhetorical expressions of solidarity showered upon the Palestinians are the cheapest currency of international diplomacy. In the real world they buy next to nothing.

To attain a political objective requires starting with a cold-blooded analysis of the reality of your situation. To achieve two states living side by side in peace, in circumstances where one state already exists and is much more powerful than the proposed state, means that the first must feel safe with the creation of the second, just as the second must be provided with the necessary diplomatic and political support. The need for security is even more critical when the two states will co-exist in a small territorial space, where the populations cannot easily separate.

Now examine the Palestinian situation. Leave aside who Israel’s prime minister is and assume that the United States has its most pro-Palestinian president ever. Suppose, further, that the international community is still riveted on the peace process and that otherwise the Middle East is quiescent. Even in this ideal environment, how could any negotiation succeed, given the current disarray in Palestinian politics?

A Palestinian state would comprise Gaza and the West Bank. The former is under the control of Hamas, an organization still formally committed to the destruction of Israel. The latter is controlled by Fatah, itself deeply split. Hamas and Fatah fiercely oppose each other; their reconciliation talks are a monument to mutual insincerity. And there has not been a democratic election for 14 years, leaving no reliable way to gauge the popular authority of the government in Ramallah.

It is inconceivable that such fragmented politics could yield a credible agreement for a state. It will therefore be difficult for any Israeli prime minister to accept one, and for any US president to compel its establishment. Palestinian political unity on a basis that is compatible with peaceful co-existence with Israel is not an interesting side issue. It is a pre-condition for success.

The Palestinian leadership objects strongly to the recent US plan, particularly to the transfer of sovereignty of the Jordan Valley to Israel and the failure to include significant parts of East Jerusalem in the future Palestinian state. In recent days, President Donald Trump’s senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has gone out of his way to say the plan, which he authored, is open to negotiation. But up to now, the Palestinians have refused to discuss the plan, or even to take a call from Trump.

This cannot work. Engage. Say why the plan is unacceptable. Point out what must be changed. Demand meetings. Advocate. Plunge into the details.

There are three groups of people who can practically help deliver statehood: the Israelis, the Americans, and the Arabs. How can denouncing the first, alienating the second, and irritating the third be a viable strategy for success?

The Palestinians of course respond that the first two are biased and the last is indifferent. But the Palestinians cannot afford an empty chair.

In any case, the Arabs are not indifferent. They care about the Palestinians, and they care passionately about Jerusalem. But they are exhausted from being caught between the challenges of regional stabilization and modernization, which necessitate a close alliance with America and a burgeoning relationship with Israel, and a cause which they are expected to support but are excluded from managing.

Instead of insisting that Arabs have nothing to do with Israel until the Palestinians have negotiated peace, the smart approach would be to encourage good Israeli-Arab relations, bind the Arabs into the negotiation, and then use them to help push the Israelis toward better positions. The goal should be a joint Arab-Israeli framework for the region, in which resolution of the Palestinian question is a part. This would give Israel confidence that peace with the Palestinians is part of genuine regional acceptance – not a reward for extracted concessions, but a natural consequence of a new spirit of friendship.

The American plan has been praised and damned in line with political affiliation. But it is the only time a US administration has produced a map that puts on the table issues that have been glossed over for too long. Right now, the plan represents what Israeli politics can bear, even though Palestinian politics cannot bear it.

But no matter what plan is put forward, the Palestinians must change their strategy. Otherwise, the pattern of recent decades, in which every new offer is worse than the last, will be repeated. Only by their own hands will Palestinians make the future different.

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New theory on origin of life

Researchers move one step further towards understanding how life evolved

by University of Oxford

Reprinted from:

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A fundamental problem for biology is explaining how life evolved. How did we get from simple chemical reactions in the prebiotic soup, to animals and plants?

A key step in explaining life is that about 4 billion years ago, all we had was just the simplest molecules that could replicate themselves. These are called ‘replicators’ – the earliest form of life, so simple that that they are almost chemistry rather than biology. Somehow they joined together to cooperate to form more complex things. This was the basis of the genome that builds us today.

But why did they join together? Why did they cooperate? Any cooperation could be easily exploited by ‘cheating’ replicators that didn’t cooperate. Did it require special environmental conditions?

Today, researchers from the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford show, in Nature Ecology & Evolution, that replicators could have solved this problem themselves. If some replicators were a bit cooperative, and some were a bit ‘sticky’ then this would lead to clumps of cooperating replicators that would evolve to become more and more cooperative, eventually producing simple genomes, and then eventually, all of life that we see around us today.

Lead researcher, Samuel Levin, at the Department of Zoology, Oxford, said: “As humans, we care about how things start. Our results help to solve some of that puzzle and are also relevant for trying to figure out how common we might expect complex life in the universe to be: how easy are these early steps?

“I was surprised by the jump in cooperation you get when you allow coevolution—it was higher than I expected. There seems to be some sort of cyclical feedback.”

Co-author, Professor Stuart West, at the Department of Zoology, Oxford, said: “Our results show us that the same issues that we think about today, with humans (cooperating and cheating) can help explain how life evolved. Life evolved as societies of cooperating replicators / molecules.”

Authors tested their hypothesis using mathematical models. They wrote equations which distilled down evolution in , and then added stickiness and cooperation to see what happened. They showed, mathematically, that more complex life could evolve only when stickiness and cooperation were allowed to coevolve at the same time.

The study, titled “The social coevolution hypothesis for the origin of enzymatic ,” is published in Nature Ecology & Evolution.

More information: Samuel R. Levin et al. The social coevolution hypothesis for the origin of enzymatic cooperation, Nature Ecology & Evolution (2019). DOI: 10.1038/s41559-019-1039-3

Citation: Researchers move one step further towards understanding how life evolved (2019, December 18) retrieved 26 December 2019 from

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Solar energy getting better

Scientists discover three new species of solar power plants in 2019

John Weaver, PV Magazine, December 24, 2019

2019 was a year of change for the solar and energy storage industry, as we shifted from deploying pure wattage to making our projects a whole lot smarter with oversized DC-AC ratios, up to 60% capacity factors, and solar plants that shine only at night.

For a long while, the job of solar power was to deliver daytime electricity – starting to pump the juice in earnest somewhere around 10 a.m., and finishing at 2 p.m. And every single drip of electricity was needed to be used to get investors into the project. This reality is no longer. For instance – we’re now talking about how in Minnesota overbuilding solar power and dumping “extra” electricity is cheaper than seasonal storage and gas over the coming decades. This ain’t your parent’s solar power.

In July of this year, a project in Connecticut was completed with a DC to AC ratio – the ratio of total solar panel wattage to solar inverter capacity – of 1.8 to 1. This value is significant (greater than the average closer to 1.3:1) because it shows that large developers have fully grasped, and are deploying, a strategy that takes full advantage of cheap solar panels to gain greater benefit. While a normal solar power plant might start clipping—i.e., dumping electricity produced by the solar panels that the inverter isn’t able to export—as the day approaches 12 noon, a plant like this will begin clipping much sooner. Generally, this wasted electricity is lost revenue. and designers abhor it. However, a plant like this will also offer a more consistent amount of electricity delivered to the power grid—starting much earlier and ending much later. As well, it will also offer a greater amount of electricity during the low sun wintertime periods. An analysis by Fluence suggested that these extra solar panels, beyond the 1.3:1 ratio, cost approximately 60¢/Wdc to install—far cheaper than standard system pricing.

What might be the most significant solar project of the year was developed by 8minute Solar Energy—the Eland Solar Power Plant totalling 400MWac / 600(?)MWdc plus 300MW/1,200MWh of energy storage. The facility will sell its electricity to two separate California buyers at just under 4¢/kWh. The plant was, to the best of this author’s knowledge, the first *large* solar plus storage facility that could arguably be considered a true power plant.

But the real kicker of this facility, and the reason there is a “?” after the 600 MWdc above, is the capacity factor that approaches 60% per CEO Tom Buttgenbach. This value is far above the peaks of AC capacity factors found in the 35% range per recent research. There are a few reasons this plant can offer a value like this:

  • The plant is located in the Mojave Desert with some of the world’s best sunlight
  • Single axis trackers “widen the shoulders” and up production overall by 15-30%
  • DC coupled energy storage captures and later on delivers the clipped electricity
  • And last, but with a question mark as the actual values aren’t known, it is probable that bifacial solar modules and/or an oversize DC to AC ratio are pumping out extra electricity for those batteries to grab.

We can assume that an advanced group like 8Minute (the time it takes for light to get to Earth from the Sun) Solar Energy has done the math on all of these potential output-increasing techniques, because this is the same group that has heavily oversized DC to AC ratios of 3-4-5 to 1 and energy storage with 15 hours of capacity that will deliver electricity 24 hours a day on their drawing blocks.

The third facility is one that delivers its solar electricity only at night. Engie was awarded a project in Guam that couples 50MWdc of solar power with 50MW / 300MWh of energy storage. The AC size of the power plant was released. The facility will deliver its electricity for up to seven hours into the evening, suggesting an inverter sizing of approximately 42MWac, and a relatively normal DC to AC ratio of 1.16:1. The facility will deliver 85 GWh of electricity per year, approximately 5% of the island’s annual 1,600GWh needs. Though there is no pricing available yet, as the final power purchase agreement is being negotiated, this will be a unique data point for developers and policy makers to consider.

These three projects—and others—herald the next stage of solar power. A stage in which solar power plants will be designed as the grid needs, to meet the requirements of society, versus  society learning to absorb what the sun has to offer. And these plants are why solar power, along with energy storage and wind generation, will come to dominate our future clean energy power grids.

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Arabs and Israelis cooperate in mixed cities

Cities with mixed populations are breaking down barriers

By Jalal Bana, December 25, 2019, Israel Hayom

Something interesting happened in Israel’s mixed Jewish-Arab cities in the last municipal elections. Arabs running on national party lists or as independent candidates were elected to city councils, and they all, without exception, joined the municipal coalition governments and announced their support for the elected mayors or local council heads. Five of these local council heads are from the Right, representing the Likud or Yisrael Beytenu.

Despite the ideological gaps and political polarization, city residents can still have identical interests, and there are many fields in which elected officials from Hadash (the Arab-Israeli communist party), Balad, or the Islamic Movement can work effectively with representatives of the Likud or Habayit Hayehudi. In every mixed-population city, one finds close cooperation between Jews and Arabs at every level of municipal administration and activity, even though it’s rare that the city’s schools are bilingual or serve both sectors.

Although the government devoted billions of shekels to a special economic plan for the Arab sector, there is no special attention being paid to the advancement of Arab residents of mixed cities. This week, the Abraham Fund hosted a conference in Acre about its “Shared Cities” initiative, during which representatives of mixed cities laid out their positions as well as presenting some very interesting statistics about the Jewish and Arab residents of those cities.

“Shared Cities” is a project that seeks to foster an approach to city management for existing mixed cities, as well as ones that are developing, and steer them toward becoming fully integrated cities in the fullest sense of the term.

According to a study that Dr. Hisham Jubran conducted in Haifa, Acre, Lod, Ramle, Jaffa, Nof Hagalil, and Ma’lot-Tarshiha, the Jewish and Arab residents of mixed cities value one another and are satisfied with relations between the two groups. The study showed that 81% of Jewish residents described relations with Arab residents of their cities as good, and 89% of the Arab residents described relations with Jewish residents as good.

Some 79% of Arab residents of mixed cities and 61% of Jewish residents said they were in contact with members of the other sector. This indicates that a clear majority of residents of mixed cities meet and interact with members of the other population sector at work, in the neighborhood, and during leisure activities.

Also, 61% of Jewish residents of mixed cities said they agreed with the statement: “I allow my children to play with Arab children,” while 86% of Arab residents said they allowed their children to play with Jews.

These figures show a heartening picture of coexistence, but when it comes to joint school systems, there is still a long way to go.

Coalitions and cooperation at the local government level offer a mirror image of what is taking place in the Knesset and in national politics as a whole, where polarization, alienation, and incitement run rampant. Mixed cities are important points of intersection that can prevent a bigger schism and help forge social bonds, especially given the fact that Arabs – especially young couples and members of the middle class – are moving from Arab communities into mixed cities in an attempt to improve their quality of life and enjoy better municipal services. They are open to the multicultural lifestyle these cities offer.

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Chanukah is the deed to Israel

Chanukah – Our Trust Deed to History | Jewish Journal


Hanukkah menorah with burning color candles for jewish holiday with wooden background. Photo by Getty Images.

My grandson asked why we make such a big fuss about Chanukah. By the tone of his voice, I could tell that a juicy recipe of Latkes and Donuts will not work this year, nor will another story of the miracle of the lonely oil vessel, nor even the victory of the Maccabees over the Syrian army in 161 BC. After all, the Bible is full of miracles, miracle makers, wars and battles, winners and losers.

Why Chanukah?

I told him honestly what Chanukah means to me: “Chanukah is our TRUST DEED to the birth-place of our history, more solid even than the ancient synagogues they are excavating in Israel, or the arch of Titus in Rome, with the Temple ornaments carved in marble.”

“Stones can be faked,” I told him, “not so a continuous collective memory, passed on from father and mother to son and daughter, over 110 generations. An unassailable proof that no one can fake”.

Recollecting back, this was also the answer my mother gave me when I asked what Chanukah meant to her.”I came to Israel in the eve of Chanukah, 1935″ she said. “The first day after my arrival, I met a neighbor, a teacher who invited me to visit her kindergarten. There I experienced one of the happiest days in my life. Scores of children were standing there loudly singing Chanukah songs, in Hebrew, as if this was the most natural thing to do, as if they were singing those songs for hundreds of years.”

“Why the wonder?” I asked. “Didn’t your family celebrate Chanukah in Poland?”

“Not exactly,” she said, “Yes, we lit the candles, but it was in a dark corner, with my father whispering the blessings and mumbling Ma Oz Tzur quietly. You see, the neighbors were Gentile, and he did not feel comfortable advertising that we celebrated a Jewish holiday. And here I come and suddenly find these toddlers singing ‘Maccabee Gibbor!’ (Maccabee, my hero”) in full volume, and in the open courtyard.”

Only those who have gone through the exhilarating experience of a people returning to its homeland could truly appreciate the gift that history has bestowed upon the Jews: singing “Maccabee Gibbor” in the language it was sang in Jerusalem 2200 years ago. And only those whose homecoming saga has been undermined and distorted can understand the power of this historical connection.

Israel’s neighbors, lacking such biblical connection, have understood the power of trust deeds. This was apparent at the 2000 Camp David Summit, when Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat could not contain himself and whispered in President Clinton’s ear: “Everyone knows that Jews did not have a Temple in Jerusalem”.

At some point, Dr. Saeb Erakat (Chief Palestinian negotiator) had decided that the Palestinians are descendants of the Canaanite tribes conquered by Joshua. This, he said later (, prevents him and any Palestinian from ever accepting Israel as a Jewish state.

When I first heard about the Palestinian-Canaanite connection, I could not help but imagine how lonely it must be for a Palestinian boy not to be able to sing “Canaanite-Gibbor” in the language of his ancestors, not to have Canaanite role models after which to name songs, towns and holidays, and, more lonely yet, to be taught by teachers who had never heard of his Canaanite ancestors when they went to kindergarten.

Just four days ago, December 18, 2019, the same Dr. Erakat tweeted a video titled “Merry Palestinian Christmas” saying: Jesus was one of us. He didn’t have blonde hair and blue eyes, he wasn’t from Kentucky, He looked like DJ Khaled, minus 200 pounds. Mary too was a Palestinian, Mary’s grandmother – A Palestinian, John the Baptist, St. George, the apostles – All Palestinians. Palestine has so much history…” and on and on.

This is not a joke. It is in fact the cause, the root, and the essence of the Palestinian tragedy. The feeling of unworthy claimants has haunted their leadership since my grandfather arrived in 1924 to re-build the Biblical town of Bnei-Brak, and the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem understood that these Jewish emigrants are no crusaders, nor Mongolian invaders, but the original owners of the place, with Biblical names to name town and with kindergarten toddlers singing “Maccabee Gibbor”.

The tragedy is that, rather than accepting Ben Gurion’s plea: “You don’t need to build Temples to be equally indigenous; centuries of physical presence is your trust deed”, (paraphrased from they chose to reject mutual recognition and go for exclusive endogeneity status.

Unable to celebrate any holiday connected to the land to which they claim sole ownership, unable to chant a single hymn authored in the days of Jesus or Judas Maccabees, lacking in fact any cultural connection to those days, Palestinian
leadership has been laboring relentlessly to fabricate such connection, and to seize, mis-appropriate and distort the heritage of their neighbors.

The tragedy is that they are still hoping to be taken seriously and well-intentioned if and when they return to the negotiating table. If only Dr. Erakat understood what his circus is doing to Palestinian credibility.

Standing tall above this circus, Chanukah remains the one unchallenged trust deed to the birthplace of our history. Let’s think about it this week when we sing the song “Maccabee Gibbor!” that my mother so loved.

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New Israeli technology may replace biopsies

New Israeli tissue sampling technology may replace painful, risky biopsies – Xinhua

JERUSALEM, Nov. 20 (Xinhua) — Israeli researchers have developed a new technology for sampling tissues without the pain and risk of biopsy tests, Tel Aviv University (TAU) in central Israel reported Wednesday.

The innovative method, published in the journal Scientific Reports, is based on the physical technique of electroporation, the application of high voltage pulsed electric fields to tissues, to sample intracellular fluids only and not whole tissue.

Current cancer treatment courses often begin with tissue biopsies, which may lead to localized tissue injury, bleeding, inflammation, and stress, as well as increased risk of metastasis.

Another disadvantage of biopsy tests is that the sample taken this way is local and does not provide comprehensive mapping on the entire tumor.

The new method, however, avoids these negative consequences, by using electric field to increase the penetrability of the cell membrane.

For the research, the scientists used electroporation to extract proteins and RNA from several normal human tissues, including liver tissues, and from a liver cancer model in mice.

It was found then that the molecular profiles of the measured samples were reliable and accurate.

Unlike biopsy tests, the new method does not damage the tissue and can detect the presence of a tumor in an organ even when the exact location of the tumor is unknown.

It can also allow sampling from various locations and comprehensive mapping of the tissue or tumor.

The researchers now plan to develop a device for local extraction, thus enabling tumor heterogeneity mapping and the probing of tumor environment molecular composition.

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Israel turns trash into treasure

Revolutionary recycling? A new technology turns everyday trash into plastic treasure.

KIBBUTZ TZE’ELIM, Israel — Eight tons of trash are piled high at the entrance of a small factory in this tree-lined kibbutz — rotting food mixed with plastic bags, dirty paper, castoff bottles and containers, even broken toys. But nothing is headed for a landfill. Instead, what’s next is a process that could revolutionize recycling.

Within hours, the mound will be sorted, ground, chopped, shredded, cleaned and heated into a sort of garbage caramel, then resurrected as tiny pseudo-plastic pellets that can be made into everyday items like trays and packing crates.

“The magic that we’re doing is we’re taking everything — the chicken bones, the banana peels,” says Jack “Tato” Bigio, the chief executive at UBQ Materials. “We take this waste, and we convert it.”

Jack “Tato” Bigio, chief executive of UBQ Materials, stands atop a pile of shredded garbage. His company will convert the trash into pellets that can be used in manufacturing plastic. (Jonas Opperskalski for The Washington Post)

Such upcycling is desperately needed by a world seeking solutions to the environmental challenges caused by the 2 billion tons of waste generated annually. Turning that trash into treasure has long held allure. Yet attempts have fallen short, and cynics abound.

UBQ says it has succeeded where others have failed, creating a radical technology that transforms garbage into the raw materials for plastics manufacturers and earns them a profit in the end.

And by diverting household refuse destined for long-term burial, the process will help to reduce landfill production of a powerful greenhouse gas while creating new life for hard-to-recycle plastic. The loop exemplifies a “circular economy,” in which waste is turned into something useful.

One skeptic turned convert calls it a breakthrough that could, in the best way, “create very serious disruption.”

“If we want to advance to a more sustainable future, we don’t only need new technologies, but new business models,” said Antonis Mavropoulos, a Greek chemical engineer who is president of the International Solid Waste Association. He visited UBQ’s plant here in the Negev Desert and came away convinced. “In this case, we have a byproduct worth a very good price in the market.”

UBQ’s process uses discarded food, containers, wrappers and other trash typically destined for landfills. (Jonas Opperskalski for The Washington Post)

UBQ’s process uses discarded food, containers, wrappers and other trash typically destined for landfills.

Others are still dubious, though they have softened their tone recently. Duane Priddy is the chief executive of the Plastic Expert Group and a former principal scientist at Dow Chemical. Until a call last month with UBQ executives, he and his group had scoffed at their claims. Now they’re keeping a more open mind.

“Although we remain skeptical, we look forward to evaluating UBQ products and continuing to learn more about the UBQ technology to further validate their findings and broad applications,” the group said in a statement. Should the technology prove commercially viable, “it could be a game changer for the global environment.”

The company’s push is part of a broader effort during the past several decades as the colossal scope of the world’s waste problem grew impossible to ignore. One approach has been to excavate existing sites, in part to recover potentially valuable debris. The strategy hasn’t proved profitable, however.

UBQ aims to keep trash from ever going into landfills.

An analysis it commissioned by the Swiss environmental consulting firm Quantis found that keeping decomposing organic waste out of landfills and using it to create second-generation plastics could significantly cut methane, the gas that in the short term contributes more to global warming than carbon dioxide. Substituting a ton of UBQ’s pellets for the same amount of polypropylene saves the equivalent of about 15 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, Quantis concluded; adding as little as 10 percent of its material can make the result carbon neutral, depending on the type of plastic being created.

What’s the “magic” behind this? Executives are coy, but biotechnology expert Oded Shoseyov, a Hebrew University professor who has consulted for UBQ, says melting plastics and waste creates a homogeneous substance strengthened by fibers in the organic ingredients.

So far, that alchemy only happens at the plant in Kibbutz Tze’elim, population 464.

A Bedouin woman, her face almost completely covered by a black veil, was among several people at work at the first stage of the process on a Sunday morning. She plucked out a variety of items — larger things like shoes and coffee machines are culled at this point — while household flotsam moved along a short conveyor belt.

Next up were two automated cullings, one involving a magnetized oval track, to eliminate both ferrous and nonferrous metals. Then the waste was shredded and ground into brownish-gray confetti before more sorting, this time targeting glass and rocks.

These stinky prep stages can vary. Bigio says UBQ works to a customer’s specifications for characteristics like tensile strength and flexibility. If its material is going to be used in injection molding, trash is sorted again and again to remove glass and metals that could damage delicate molds. If the material’s final fate is for use in construction — in composite brick, for example — the sorting is less rigorous.

The conversion process

Step 1: At UBQ’s plant, the transformation process starts with untreated garbage.

Step 2: The garbage is sorted, dried, shredded and ground into a brownish-gray confetti.

Step 3: The confetti is melted, pulverized and transformed into thermoplastic strands.

Step 4: The strands are cut into pellets that a plastics manufacturer will use in making various products.

Step 5: The round or cylindrical pellets come in an array of customer-requested colors.

Step 6: A pen holder made of UBQ material resembles the design of the original UBQ bin.

The conversion process

Step 1: At UBQ’s plant, the transformation process starts with untreated garbage.

Step 2: The garbage is sorted, dried, shredded and ground into a brownish-gray confetti.

Step 3: The confetti is melted in a secret process, pulverized and transformed into thermoplastic strands.

Step 4: The strands are cut into pellets that a plastics manufacturer will use in making various products.

Step 5: The round or cylindrical pellets come in an array of customer-requested colors.

Step 6: A pen holder made of UBQ material resembles the design of the original UBQ bin.

Regardless, there’s one final check and cleaning using near-infrared spectroscopy.

“In UBQ, nothing goes to waste,” Bigio said as he led visitors on a tour, past dunes of confetti awaiting their metamorphosis. “Metals and glass go to recyclers. There’s no water in the process, so it’s really efficient in terms of the environment.”

The conversion stage takes place in an adjacent building. As much as five tons of waste can be fed into a red hopper leading to a multi-chamber reactor that sits behind a closed sliding door to block prying eyes. Temperatures up to 400 degrees break down the organic matter into its core elements, and then it and the plastics are re-engineered into a matrix through chemical and physical reactions that UBQ keeps secret.

The result is something of a tongue twister that seems too good to be true, what Bigio calls “a thermoplastic, composite, bio-based, sustainable, climate-positive material.”

That is pulverized into a gray powder that looks and feels like ashes, the afterlife of people’s waste. The final stage turns the powder into long, spaghetti-like strands that are cooled and cut into round or cylindrical pellets in an array of colors — forest green, bright orange, firehouse red, basic black, plus others.

Getting this far has taken some time. The company has been shepherded for about a decade by Rabbi Yehuda Pearl, a businessman who built Sabra into a hummus superpower before selling his interest to PepsiCo for nearly $50 million. Its pilot facility opened in 2013, and scientists, technicians and other staff spent the next several years on below-the-radar research and testing to ensure the green credentials and profitability of their product.

Pearl, a soft-spoken man with a grandfatherly bearing, said the team wanted to be “bulletproof” given the doubters they’d inevitably face. The company, which these days has more than three dozen employees, holds patents in Israel, the United States, Canada, China, India, South Korea and other countries.

Now UBQ — short for ubiquitous — is stepping into the market. It has publicly acknowledged just one customer, an Israeli company named Plasgad that makes pallets, crates and other products. In August, UBQ announced that 2,000 Plasgad-manufactured recycling bins were headed to the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority. Those bins, made with UBQ pellets, can be recycled in the future using the UBQ process.

According to Pearl, the company is in advanced talks with numerous Fortune 1000 firms interested in utilizing its material. Prominent names are on its board as advisers, including Roger Kornberg, a Stanford professor and Nobel laureate for chemistry.

This glimmer of hope for recycling is timely. The latest data show that Americans generate 262.4 million tons of waste a year — about 4.4 pounds per person per day. Where to put it is increasingly problematic. In 2018, China blocked the import of most plastic waste, essentially forcing more into landfills around the world. Some U.S. cities have ended their recycling programs.

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE: A machine blends additives and colors to the melted trash material during a final stage at UBQ’s plant in Israel. The result comes out as spaghetti-like strands, which are cut into tiny pseudo-plastic pellets. Engineer Sami Zoaida oversees the production of pencil holders made from the UBQ pellets.

FROM LEFT: Engineer Sami Zoaida oversees the production of pencil holders made from the UBQ pellets. A machine blends additives and colors to the melted trash material during a final stage at UBQ’s plant in Israel. The result comes out as spaghetti-like strands, which are cut into tiny pseudo-plastic pellets.

UBQ Materials is itself a recycled, upcycled idea. The company’s genesis traces back to a member of the Israeli armed forces who received compensation after he developed cancer during training dives in the polluted Kishon River. As Shoseyov recounted, the soldier took the money and started a company to mix plastic with polluted mud from the river — what he thought would be an inexpensive solution to encasing toxic substances in the riverbed. Scientists, Shoseyov said, would never have pursued such an outlandish concept.

Pearl invested $3.5 million in it, however. And while that first venture went bankrupt, he consulted with experts and decided the core idea had promise. He obtained the original patents and formed UBQ in 2012. The big breakthrough came when he asked whether the material could be liquefied enough to flow, a feat many experts told him was near impossible.

In the laboratory, the first tests replaced 10 percent of plastic with UBQ material in an injection molding machine. It worked, creating a small cup. Gradually, the amount of UBQ material was increased. Even at 90 percent, that garbage caramel still flowed.

The team continues investigating new applications and testing characteristics like durability. UBQ says its material doesn’t break down and can have more than half a dozen lives, unlike most plastics, which can be recycled only once or twice because they degrade. Research has shown that additives can also be blended in to provide flame retardant or UV protection.

“This lab is the heart of the company,” said Bigio, a businessman by training. He has lived in Israel since 1984, though his native Peruvian accent comes through in both Hebrew and English.

The plant’s raw material is waste hauled from Tel Aviv’s Hiriya transfer station, which otherwise would go to a landfill near Beersheba. The company has also imported waste from around the globe to ensure its approach works with garbage from other countries.

A landfill just minutes from the UBQ factory in Kibbutz Tze’elim treats waste the usual way: by burying it. (Jonas Opperskalski for The Washington Post)

The facility can produce about one ton of UBQ material per hour, 5,000 to 7,000 tons annually. Another site, with an annual capacity of up to 100,000 tons, is being planned. Demand is huge, Bigio said, with the global plastic injection industry a $325 billion market. He and Pearl — one working from Israel, the other from New York — say their technology is easily scaled. They say UBQ is already making money on its manufacturing process, though they declined to give specific numbers.

Moving a start-up into the mainstream is a familiar refrain for Pearl. He owned a kosher specialty grocery in Scarsdale, N.Y., when he invested in Sabra in 1994, helping increase revenue from $1 million annually to $7 million in eight years. After he took control of Sabra in 2002, its fortunes skyrocketed. Sales jumped by 50 percent annually. He’s had comparable success with his Long Island synagogue, Anshei Shalom, which started with seven families. Today, it has more than 300.

“It was similar with UBQ,” he says. “I saw the germ of an idea that might be grown and influenced.”

This time, instead of putting hummus in every refrigerator, he’s aiming to put garbage in every piece of plastic.

About this story

Story editing by Susan Levine. Photo editing by Karly Domb Sadof. Copy editing by Anne Kenderdine. Development and design by Andrew Braford.

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Posted in Air & Water, Alternative Energy, Biomass fuels, Climate Change, Middle East | Comments Off on Israel turns trash into treasure

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