Israeli Firm Says It Can Turn Garbage Into Bio-Based Plastic

Israeli Firm Says It Can Turn Garbage Into Bio-Based Plastic

Hawks, vultures and storks circle overhead as Christopher Sveen points at the heap of refuse rotting in the desert heat. “This is the mine of the future,” he beams.

Sveen is chief sustainability officer at UBQ, an Israeli company that has patented a process to convert household trash, diverting waste from landfills into reusable bio-based plastic.

After five years of development, the company is bringing its operations online, with hopes of revolutionising waste management and being a driver to make landfills obsolete. It remains to be seen, however, if the technology really works and is commercially viable.

UBQ operates a pilot plant and research facility on the edge of southern Israel’s Negev Desert, where it has developed its production line.

“We take something that is not only not useful, but that creates a lot of damage to our planet, and we’re able to turn it into the things we use every day,” said Albert Douer, UBQ’s executive chairman. He said UBQ’s material can be used as a substitute for conventional petrochemical plastics and wood, reducing oil consumption and deforestation.

UBQ has raised $30 million (roughly Rs. 195 crores) from private investors, including Douer, who is also chief executive of Ajover Darnel Group, an international plastics conglomerate.

Leading experts and scientists serve on its advisory board, including Nobel Prize chemist Roger Kornberg, Hebrew University biochemist Oded Shoseyov, author and entrepreneur John Elkington and Connie Hedegaard, a former European Commissioner for Climate Action.

The small plant can process one ton of municipal waste per hour, a relatively small amount that would not meet the needs of even a midsize city. But UBQ says that given the modularity, it can be quickly expanded.

On a recent day, UBQ Chief Executive Tato Bigio stood alongside bales of sorted trash hauled in from a local landfill.

He said recyclable items like glass, metals and minerals are extracted and sent for further recycling, while the remaining garbage – “banana peels, the chicken bones and the hamburger, the dirty plastics, the dirty cartons, the dirty papers” – is dried and milled into a powder.

The steely gray powder then enters a reaction chamber, where it is broken down and reconstituted as a bio-based plastic-like composite material. UBQ says its closely-guarded patented process produces no greenhouse gas emissions or residual waste byproducts, and uses little energy and no water.

According to the United Nations Environment Program, 5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are produced by decomposing organic material in landfills. Roughly half is methane, which over two decades is 86 times as potent for global warming as carbon dioxide, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

For every ton of material produced, UBQ says it prevents between three and 30 tons of CO2 from being created by keeping waste out of landfills and decomposing.

UBQ says its material can be used as an additive to conventional plastics. It says 10-15 percent is enough to make a plastic carbon-neutral by offsetting the generation of methane and carbon dioxide in landfills. It can be moulded into bricks, beams, planters, cans, and construction materials. Unlike most plastics, UBQ says its material doesn’t degrade when it’s recycled.

The company says converting waste into marketable products is profitable, and likely to succeed in the long run without government subsidies.

“What we do is we try to position ourselves at the end of the value chain, or at the end of the waste management hierarchy,” Sveen said. “So rather than that waste going to a landfill or being incinerated, that’s kind of our waste feedstock.”

The wonder plastic isn’t without its sceptics, however. Duane Priddy, chief executive of the Plastic Expert Group, said UBQ’s claims were “too good to be true” and likened it to alchemy.

“Chemists have been trying to convert lead to gold for centuries, without success,” Priddy, a former principal scientist at Dow Chemical, said in an email to The Associated Press. “Likewise, chemists have been trying to convert garbage to plastic for several decades.”

UBQ said it is confident its technology will prove the sceptics wrong. “We understand that’s people’s perceptions. We hope to convince them in a professional and scientific manner,” Sveen said.

Even if its technology is ultimately successful, UBQ faces questions about its long-term viability. Building additional plants could be expensive and time-consuming. It also needs to prove there is a market for its plastic products. The company said it is negotiating deals with major customers, but declined to identify them or say when the contracts would go into effect.

The UN Environment Program has made solid waste disposal a central issue to combatting pollution worldwide. Landfills contaminate air, water and soil, and take up limited land and resources. A December 2017 report by the international body devoted five of its 50 anti-pollution measures to reducing and processing solid waste.

“Every year, an estimated 11.2 billion tons of solid waste are collected worldwide,” the organisation says. “The solution, in the first place, is the minimisation of waste. Where waste cannot be avoided, recovery of materials and energy from waste as well as remanufacturing and recycling waste into usable products should be the second option.”

Israel lags behind other developed countries in waste disposal. The country of roughly 8 million people generated 5.3 million metric tons of garbage in 2016, according to the Environment Ministry. Over 80 percent of that trash ended up in increasingly crowded landfills. A third of Israel’s landfill garbage is food scraps, which decompose and produce greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide.

To UBQ, that means a nearly limitless supply of raw material.

“The fact is that the majority of waste goes to a landfill or is leaked into our natural environments because there simply aren’t holistic and economically viable technologies out there,” said Sveen.


Warning over iPhone apps that can silently turn on cameras at any time

The new iPhone X will feature an advanced front camera that can build up 3D pictures of faces CREDIT:GETTY IMAGES

Apple has been urged to change the way in which iPhone apps are granted access to the phone’s camera after a security researcher demonstrated how apps can secretly record photos and videos without the user knowing.

Felix Krause, an Austrian developer who works for Google, built an app that was able to take pictures of its user every second and upload them, without notifying the user. He called it a “privacy loophole that can be abused by iOS apps”.

When an app wants to access the camera, for example to scan a credit card or take a profile picture during the set-up process, the iPhone user must give the app permission, in the same way that apps must ask to access the camera roll, location and contacts and to send notifications. Once allowed, it has to be turned off via the settings menu.

The system is similar to the permissions required by apps on Android. Google has recently deleted several apps that surreptitiously recorded users and masqueraded as legitimate apps.

But Krause said that once an app has been granted initial access, it can take photos and videos whenever it is opened up. Unlike on Mac computers, which have a small green light next to the camera when it is being used, there is no indication that an app is recording videos or taking photos, or when it sends them elsewhere.

Facebook app permissions
App permissions are indefinite, apply to both the front and back camera, and can be used for photo and video

The iPhone’s camera app permissions do not differentiate between the phone’s front and back camera. Allowing camera permissions can grant extra access in the latest version of iOS, which has a facial recognition engine that could allow apps to detect emotions.

The permissions system is not a bug or a flaw – it works in exactly the way Apple has designed it – but Krause said malicious apps could take advantage of it to surreptitiously record users.

He demonstrated this by building an app that took a photo of the person using it every second, and which also ran a facial recognition program to detect the person using it.

He warned that other apps could monitor users’ emotions as they scroll through a social network news feed, record what they are saying, or live stream video of them in the bathroom as they tap away at a smartphone game.

Krause said Apple should introduce a system of temporary permissions – one that allows apps to take a picture during the set-up process, but revokes it after a period of time – or to introduce a warning light or notification to the iPhone that tells people when they are being recorded.

There are few examples of apps being found to secretly record users – apart from those specifically designed for this such as Stealth Cam. The practice is banned by Apple’s App Store guidelines, which state that a “reasonably conspicuous audio, visual or other indicator must be displayed to the user as part of the Application to indicate that a Recording is taking place”.

Krause claimed it would be easy to hide the behaviour, allowing it to make it through Apple’s approval process.

Facebook users have often claimed that the social network is secretly listening to their conversations in an attempt to better target adverts, something that Facebook itself has denied.

Some privacy conscious users have taken to covering up the cameras on their computers in an attempt to prevent being spied on, including Facebook’s founder Mark Zuckerberg.

Krause recently demonstrated how malicious apps could steal a user’s iCloud password by appearing to be an official command. The developer works at Google but says his work on security is a hobby, in no way affiliated with his employer.

Apple did not comment.


Punishments turn creative


In a world that waits for none and rushes around all the time in a frenzied hurry, it is no wonder that tiny children get trampled upon. And their rights and aspirations get violated inadvertently. Injustices suffered by the toddlers go unperceived and unnoticed except on occasions. It was one of those occasions when there was widespread outrage at an 11-yr-old girl in Hyderabad being made to stand in the boys’ washroom for a prolonged period as punishment for not wearing her school uniform. The kid’s pleas that her mother wrote an explanation in her school diary why she was not able to wear uniform fell on deaf years.

The girl was old enough to understand the abnormality of being pushed into a boys washroom. She was sensitive enough to feel humiliated when the boys mocked her. And she was smart enough to recognise that her teacher was punishing her, a punishment that had a clear and express intention of insulting her. The kid does not now want to go to school any more, an understandable response that parents now need to address.

Fortunately, such bizarre punishments are rarely doled out, though, of course, the possibility of less reportage is always there.

What happens when a teacher resorts to severe physical and psychological methods to discipline children? “Disciplining students is an integral part of what a teacher should do. It is what a teacher can and is expected to do. It is the teacher’s duty to draw boundaries for a child’s behaviour. So what happens when the teacher herself/himself fails to respect those boundaries?” asks Dr G Padmaja, Psychologist and Assistant Professor, Centre for Health Psychology, University of Hyderabad.

What happens when a child is publicly humiliated?
Low self-esteem
Low confidence
Loss of sense of right and wrong
Sense of vengeance

What is the accepted way of disciplining a child? In ways that are not psychologically or physically hurtful. In ways that neither violate the law nor the parameters of child welfare. Judgment is becoming increasingly difficult, say experts. “Punishing a child has many ramifications. There’s psychological distress for the child, a rollercoaster ride through emotions. There’s humiliation and the outcomes become manifest after years. When the child is slightly older, public humiliation can cause a peer pressure, a humiliation that becomes social as much as psychological,” explains Dr Padmaja.

The teacher’s administering of punishment is, in fact, a demonstration of how to cause displeasure or pain. And it comes from someone, who is supposed to be showing the right path. If the child is in its formative years the scars may go pretty deep. And among adolescent children, it can even lead to reactionary behaviour, warns Dr Padmaja.

The unorthodox punishments by teachers, reported in recent times, ranged from making children run in sun for hours, slapping a child 40 times by a teacher in Lucknow, pants pulled down and sent to a dark room in Bengaluru, forcefully cutting off hair in a Mumbai school. While this is apart from the regular scale on the palm punishment, a Kerala school went to extremes making good students wear white uniforms and ‘duffers’ red checks.

Such punishments can build a fear psychosis and it affects not only academics but the entire personality, says Dr Padmaja.

Finding fault with the teacher alone is a reductionist approach, says Dr M Narayana Reddy, former Principal of a DAV school and an education reforms activist. “There are many underlying circumstances which lead to such a manifestation. In fact, this is more difficult than handling curriculum for teachers, finding the right to discipline a wayward child,” he says.

While teachers do receive training, he points out that often the schools where teachers show lack of empathy are corporate schools. “It is also those schools which show a high rate of reportage. They are supposed to be having the best trained teachers.” Even the training does not emphasise enough on empathy and fair methods of disciplining a child, he feels.

“Yes. Clearly, though there is the fault of the teacher in these incidents, we cannot over-generalise,” says Dr Padmaja. There are lakhs of teachers handling school issues with compassion and aplomb every single day. It is only an aberration that punishment goes to bizarre, extreme levels.

So how does a teacher find balance? Every child is unique. Every child is a product of an entire set of genetic, social, cultural and economic factors. And every child has his, her own psychology. Is it fair to apply a blanket rule to them?

“There lies the problem. The student-teacher ratio is very high in many schools. How does a teacher already handling syllabus and examinations have time to specifically each child’s needs? That has been one of our long-standing demands that a child-teacher ratio should be rationalised. But it is far from becoming a reality.”  Narayana Reddy says.

Schools also complain that the parents refuse to take responsibility for the overall development of their children. It is only a few hours that the child spends in the school. The influences at home and in the family and neighbourhood are far stronger. “They want us to spare the rod and yet make their child turn out to be a perfect specimen. How is that possible? I do not beat a child but they do need punishment though I agree my frustrations should not fuel the severity of punishment I dole out,” laments a teacher.

“Don’t judge the teachers. It is a team that requires to handle this,” asserts Dr Padmaja. “Teachers and parents plus a cooperative school environment. Application of principles of reinforcement should be the focus. In fact, we advise that every school should have a psychologist on board for timely inputs.” Expectations from schools and teachers are high. And education has come to be not just a profession but a commercial enterprise where parents paying high amounts of money expect miracles from the service provider.

“Teachers need to show integrity. And learn the potential power of their role. And society needs to recognise the role of the teachers in the right proportion and perspective. But it is also important to reorient them periodically with refreshers and training programmes so that even they understand the changing dynamics in the world and the new influences on children,” says Dr Reddy.

Understanding punishment

Reinforcement is a way to strengthen a certain pattern of behaviour. While positive reinforcement motivates a student to act in more positive ways, negative reinforcement serves to emphasise that errant behaviour will not be rewarded. Isolating a student who misbehaves with his fellow students is negative reinforcement, bringing him slowly back to the group when he calms down is removing the negative and encouraging positive behaviour.

Managing a child’s psychology is nothing but a combination of rewards and punishment through reinforcement. It is up to the teacher to take him closer to the goal step by step and the parents to be keen parents who observe the obscure little ways in which their child is improving or digressing and either reward him or alert him.

A child’s development as a holistic process needs an intricate psychological management. It is this management that lays the foundation for a human being to take shape. And it is up to the teachers and the parents to work in tandem to judge a child’s progress. Strict is not stringent and firm is not violent but punishment is still an essential part of psychology of learning. Aberrations should be lessons in how not to handle situations involving wayward children.


Students turn creative to raise funds for design project

Reshaping spaces: The architecture students plan to create a vertical garden under the bridge on TTK Road.   | Photo Credit: R_Ragu

Hold painting exhibition under TTK Road bridge

The aspiration of a group of architecture students to compete in a contest has turned the space below the bridge on TTK Road colourful.

When 20-year-old Shruti Mohan and 20 other students of Mohamed Sathak AJ Academy of Architecture wanted to participate in the annual NASA Design Competition conducted by the National Association of Students of Architecture, which requires them to effectively utilise public space, they struggled to mobilise the necessary money.

Quickly, they put together some pocket money and decided to put on a painting exhibition on Sunday under the bridge itself.

“This painting exhibition is like a fund-raiser for implementing the project of creating a vertical garden on the pillars of the bridge. We have used insulation and used tyres, made them colourful and turned them into seats. Then, we approached some artists, who promised to give us about 50% of the sale money from their paintings to us,” she said.

They have about 100 paintings of many noted artists with the price ranging from ₹1,000 to ₹3 lakh. This project, they say, will cost them ₹6 lakh.

Dhanya M, another student, said, “We have been able to raise about ₹10,000 so far. We are hopeful of getting funds somehow.”