Downtown Sydney is Now Powered By 100% Renewable Energy Thanks to Historic Deal

In the middle of Australia’s largest city the downtown business borough is now officially powered by 100% green energy thanks to the “largest standalone renewables agreement for an Australian council to date.”

The City of Sydney, which is home to a quarter-million people, has begun sourcing all of its energy from two solar farms and the largest wind farm in all of New South Wales.

The transition was facilitated through a power purchase agreement (PPA) with electricity retailer Flow Power. Although the historic deal costs AU$60 million, the initiative is expected to save AU$500,000 every year, according to Euronews.

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The initiative is also expected to purge roughly 20,000 tons of CO2 from the city’s carbon footprint—roughly 70% of its total output—before 2024, which is several years earlier than its original goal.

“Cities are responsible for 70% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, so it is critical that we take effective and evidence-based climate actions,” said Sydney Mayor Clover Moore.

“The City of Sydney became carbon neutral in 2007, and were the first government in Australia to be certified carbon neutral in 2011,” she added. “This ground-breaking $60 million renewable electricity deal will also save our ratepayers money and support regional jobs in wind and solar farms in Glen Innes, Wagga Wagga, and the Shoalhaven.”

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Tiny Forests Are Springing Up All Around Europe, Inspired By Japan, to Help Restore Biodiversity

Using the methods of Japan’s most famous botanist, European countries are beginning to dot their urban landscapes with tiny forests, as productive and biodiverse as any in wilderness areas, yet sometimes only as big as a tennis court.

The idea is that volunteers can plant densely-packed clusters of seedlings from indigenous plants to create a small functional ecosystem that can restore soil, protect resources like water and air quality, and act as a biodiversity hotspot that can have a measurable effect on both the local and regional environment.

Akira Miyawaki was the botanist who in 1970 observed that trees around Japan’s Shinto and Buddhist shrines tended to be native species, well-adapted to the soil and climate of the islands of Japan.

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He later found that only 0.06% of contemporary Japanese forests were indigenous forests, with the sizable remainder populated by non-native tree species, or planted in unnatural ways.

He pioneered a method of restoring indigenous forests on degraded or deforested land which had been devoid of humus. It came to be known as the Miyawaki method. Using this formula he created over 1,700 forests throughout Asia, 96.7% of which developed into a resilient ecosystem within ten years.

Miyawaki in Europe

Growing more than 10x faster, and possessing up to 20x more biodiversity potential than contemporary forests, the Miyawaki method is perfect for organizations like Urban Forests in France and Belgium, and the Tiny Forest initiative in Holland, with their strong desire to prevent the worst of climate change upon their nations’ relatively small landmass.

Urban Forest in Belgium – Instagram @urbanforestsbelgium

On March 2nd Urban Forests finished a 22-species, 1,200-tree Miyawaki forest in Toulouse, France, planted on 400 square meters—the first such forest in Toulouse.

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“The plantations are made in a very dense way, in order to favor the cooperation between the species,” Audrey, one of Urban Forests’ volunteers explained to Actu Toulouse. “It captures more CO2 and trees grow up to ten times faster than in a conventional forest.”

It’s just one of many Urban Forests’ projects, and the fifth that the nonprofit has completed this year. In total their Miyawaki forests across Belgium and France consist of 21,000 trees over 7,000 square meters.

The Tiny Forest Initiative started in 2015 in the Dutch city of Zaandam by the Institute for Nature Education and Sustainability (IVN), has created 100 Miyawaki forests across the country, and had planned an additional 30 for the first three months of 2020.

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In 2017, ecologists at Wageningen University in Holland examined the newly planted mini-forests and concluded that tiny forests “increase the biodiversity compared to the nearby forest. Both the number of species groups and the number of individuals is generally higher than in the reference forests.”

They also found that biodiversity was improved because sunlight was able to reach more species of local plants known to local pollinators. The forests also provided “more variety in food and shelter for a higher diversity of animals like insects, snails, butterflies, amphibians, bugs, grasshoppers.”

“This is a great thing to do,” said wildlife researcher Eric Dinerstein in a recent scientific publication. “So this could be another aspect for suburban and urban areas, to create wildlife corridors through contiguous ribbons of mini-forest.”

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People Use Chalk to Write Plant Names on Sidewalks to Help People Connect With Nature – ‘More Than Weeds’

Across the paved streets of the UK and France, sidewalk chalk is beginning to be employed by more than just children as rebel botanists regularly break street-chalking laws to write the names of wild plants and flowers growing through cracks in the cement.

Beginning in France—and leading to a campaign called More Than Weeds in London—this act of highlighting the names of wildflowers and other plants has drawn significant attention on social media, where images and videos are racking up hundreds of thousands of fans.

In one video viewed 7 million times from the French website Brut, Boris Presseq, a botanist at the Toulouse Museum of Natural History, walks around his city chalking the names of the plants he finds on sidewalks and walls to help raise awareness of the diversity and richness of plant citizens in the heart of the southern French city.

“I wanted to raise awareness of the presence, knowledge and respect of these wild plants on sidewalks. People who had never taken the time to observe these plants now tell me their view has changed. Schools have contacted me since to work with students on nature in the city,” Presseq told the Guardian.

In one of those “every day you break 3 laws you didn’t know existed” moments, it is illegal to use sidewalk chalk on public pavement without permission for any reason. However, no one in London, Cambridge, or Hackney seems to mind the graffiti, with one selection of identified plants posted by a London resident on Twitter receiving over 100k likes.

Tweet by Elizabeth Archer

Weeds Do More Than Grow

Botanical chalking is a sign of changing attitudes towards plants in English cities. In 2018, the Hackney town council reduced the amount of glyphosate used to control weeds by 50%, and last year trialed a glyphosate-free area to promote biodiversity and see if it was possible to maintain a high standard of sidewalk maintenance without the use of chemical herbicides.

Glyphosate is an ingredient present in many popular industrial and commercial herbicides that the International Agency for Research on Cancer has labeled a probable carcinogen.

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Hundreds of insects species are deprived of food when glyphosate is used as an herbicide, which means hundreds of plant species nearby go without the needed pollinators. Critically, many species of plants considered weeds, such as dandelions which can thrive in urban environments actually provide more pollen—and human food—per flower than other, wilder species, according to a study which looked at 65 plants across six UK cities. They found that weed species occupied the top five spots for nectar sugar produced and two spots in the top ten for pollen production.

Boris Presseq with students naming Portulacca on French street

“Every flower counts and will be targeted by pollinators […]If we change our perceptions and see the dandelion flower for what it is – an absolute lifeline to our bees in early spring – we might learn to love them more.” said UK Plantlife Spokesperson Trevor Dines speaking to the Guardian.

“One survey of pavements in Sheffield found 183 different plants, another in Cambridge found 186 species on walls. All these little micro niches build up to a wonderfully complex tapestry,” he added.

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Being able to see and identify a plant is important for a person to build an awareness or appreciation for plant life in the city. People who don’t understand the name or function of a particular plant in an ecosystem like their yard are less-likely to be interested in them, just as they would if they were watching a sporting event without knowing the names or roles of any of the players.

“Botanical chalking gives a quick blast of nature connection, as the words encourage you to look up and notice the tree above you, the leaves, the bark, the insects, the sky. And that’s all good for mental health,” said one of the lawless, chalk-armed English botanical enthusiasts who spoke to the Guardian under conditions of anonymity in order to avoid fines up to £2,500 for graffiti.

“It’s brought me a great amount of joy,” they added.

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Newly-Developed Enzyme That Breaks Down Plastic Bottles in Hours is On Track to Change the Recycling Game

Utilizing an enzyme found within composted leaves, scientists are now breaking down plastic all the way into a recyclable form in a matter of hours.

Carbios, the French company responsible for the breakthrough, is already collaborating with Pepsi and L’Oréal to unleash industrial market-scale production of the new substance within five years.

“We are the first company to bring this technology on the market,” the deputy chief executive at Carbios, Martin Stephan, told The Guardian. “Our goal is to be up and running by 2024–2025, at large industrial scale.”

Their discovery, which sources described as a major advance, joins an arsenal of solutions for plastic pollution control that have appeared over the last decade.

Just like Boyan Slat who took on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, or the bracelet folks at 4Ocean who took on the problem of ocean pollution in rivers, the scientists from the University of Toulouse are applying their breakthrough to another part of the problem—the recycling of plastic.

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Plastic isn’t straightforward to recycle. There are common varieties of plastic made from multiple layers of different esters, each one requiring different equipment or temperature to breakdown. And, there are a lot of plastic esters that could be recycled but aren’t because the market value for the recycled material is so low it can’t financially sustain the operation.

In the scientist’s paper published in Nature, they detail how poly(ethylene terephthalate) PET, the most common polyester plastic, loses much of its mechanical utility when heated for recycling. Therefore, creating new material is preferred, and PET waste continues to accumulate.

Their new enzyme achieves a minimum of 90% de-polymerization in just 10 hours, meaning that the polymers—large complex particles, become monomers—small single particles in less than a day, and perhaps even more amazing, end up as biologically depolymerized plastic that can actually be reused to create things like plastic bottles.

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While manufacturing plastic bottles from recycled PET made by this enzyme would cost about 4% of the amount needed to make new bottles from fresh petroleum, the recycling infrastructure, including the grounding up and heating of the plastic bottles before the enzyme is added would still make it more expensive in the end.

Nevertheless, the future is bright for this technology. Co-enzymes could be synthesized, companies could produce more inexpensive recycling infrastructure—both of which could finally bring down the cost of producing recycled plastic goods.

Carbios has also begun tackling the normally unrecyclable plastic film problem. In an alliance with several other European companies under the name Carbiolice, they demonstrated a plastic film last year that can be compostable in home or municipal compost piles. Their objective will be to address the markets of plastic films and single-use bags—and later on, rigid packaging and disposable tableware.

“These milestones reinforce our ambition to offer the market circular economy solutions that are both competitive and eco-friendly, and which will revolutionize the end of life for plastics and textiles.”

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Happy 60th Birthday to Madagascar! World’s Most Biodiverse Island Gets Gift of 60 Million Trees

To celebrate its 60th birthday, the nation of Madagascar held its largest ever tree-planting ceremony, with a million seedlings going into the ground in just a few hours after the speeches concluded. The country is preparing to plant a million trees for each year of its six decade history.

“The government has the challenge of making Madagascar a green island again. I encourage the people to protect the environment and reforest for the benefit of the future generations,” said President Andy Rajoelina at the January launch event in Ankazobe district, 100 kilometers (60 miles) northwest of the capital, Antananarivo.

According to two Madagascar writers published at Mongabay, the highly-publicized campaign comes one year after Rajoelina’s election on a platform that promised to “Make  Madagascar green again.” It is the culmination of months of hard work by many organizations amassing around 100 million seeds to place into cultivated nursery beds—with schools, NGOs, government ministries, and even the army lending a helping hand.

Some officials supporting the project worry there won’t be enough follow-up to ensure the trees make it to adulthood, but Madagascar’s environment minister vowed to provide support.

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“This time, the action will be continuous, and there will be a follow-up,” said Alexandre Georget. “The state will recruit guards to monitor and protect the young plants.”

This is the world’s oldest island and a country of unparalleled biodiversity, but it is often scored as one of the worst nations for deforestation, with 40% of its forest cover lost since 1940. Most rural populations can’t make money from the incredibly unique forest ecosystem, so the trees are the first to go, when islanders need to make a living.

– Lemur, Mobile Library Project

That’s one of the reasons the environmental ministry and partners are planting trees that bear fruit and spices which can be harvested for export.

Recent movements turned to education, government protections of land, and the training of rural communities to regard themselves as forest protectors, which have all helped slow the decline of forests and exotic wildlife populations like the 100 species of lemur that are found only on this island.

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But rigorous reforestation is also needed to support these exotic creatures, so the country is stepping up. It is including some fast-growing non-native species which do pose a risk to the high bio-diversity of flora in the region, but also could go a long way towards achieving a financially stable relationship between the trees and the Malagasy who live under them.

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What Can One Person Do in 10 Years? This Man Planted 152 Million Mangrove Trees

“Here we have a burgeoning (mangrove) leaf. You take it and you plant the lower third in the mud, and then you take 2 steps—one, two, and then you plant another one,” said the retired politician, with a smile ear to ear, as he wades in the murky coastal waters of Senegal’s Casamance Delta.

Planting since 2009, Haidar el Ali’s efforts have produced one of the most stunning successes in the history of modern large-scale reforestation—the restoration of an entire Senegalese mangrove swamp.

Forests are one of the most resilient habitats on our planet while also being one of the most exploited. Ever since the scientific community began to encourage the planting of trees to ‘re-wild’ previously lost forest ecosystems to respond to climate change, some very determined members of the human race have rolled up their sleeves and produced remarkable results.

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As Senegal’s former Minister of Ecology (and later Fisheries), the 67-year-old was able to rally citizens from the local coastal population to help him plant 152 million mangrove buds by hand, and it created a truly beautiful coastal mangrove forest stretching hundreds of square miles—one of the largest of its kind in the world.

A Paradise for Crabs—and Environmental Ministers

Recently, Jean Francois Bastin et al. estimated that 2.4 billion acres of additional forest cover on the earth (1B hectares) would suck 25% of all the carbon currently being pumped into the atmosphere. Science like this was in large part responsible for the World Economic Forum’s launch of the Trillion Trees vision.

Because they store immense amounts of carbon in their submerged root systems, mangroves and other bodies of coastal vegetation are some of our planet’s most important ecosystems. They help filter river mud runoff from entering the sea, while absorbing the brunt of tidal waves and tsunamis. And they also provide some of the most valuable habitat for near-shore wildlife including birds, insects, invertebrates, crustaceans, reptiles, fish, and even monkeys.

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In a video interview with BBC, Haidar described how the original mangrove forest in Southern Senegal was disrupted in the 80s and 90s as the nation began to build roads which diverted or ended the flow of rivers. “At the time there were no environmental impact studies, of course.”

2008 photo of Haidar by Serigne Diagne, CC license

Next came the lumbermen who clear-cut the coastal mangroves. It wasn’t, as Haidar explains, until the salt from the sea water entering the delta poisoned the nearby rice fields that people began to think about replacing what had been lost.

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Though nearing his seventh decade of life, Haidar swims butterfly stroke through the water-borne forest of his and his colleagues’ making, pointing out the presence of returning wildlife as a boon to the local economy.

“The mangrove is a fantastic ecosystem that attracts rain—and it is well known scientifically that this mud captures methane, and that these leaves capture CO2,” he explains.

“I take a lot of satisfaction from this. I’m ready to do it every day, all evening, all my life.”

(WATCH the heartwarming BBC video below… [NOTE: BBC only has video, no full article)

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Wales is Building a National Forest That Will Span the Length and Breadth of the Country

As a particularly mystical part of Great Britain that is home to a rich collection of folkloric fables (they even have a dragon on their flag), Wales is exactly the place you’d want to go if you were looking to find an enchanted woodland.

Now, a new initiative led by Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford is set to turn a large part of Wales back into the kind of magical place described in their beloved history.

The Welsh government is now working to plant a national forest that would run the length and breadth of the land, connecting existing protected woodland environments with large scale tree-planting projects meant to restore natural Wales and fight climate change.

“We have a responsibility to future generations to protect nature from the dangers of our changing climate, but a healthy natural environment will also offer protection to our communities from the dangers we ourselves face,” Drakeford said.

Additionally, ancient hardwood forests of Europe provide other valuable ecosystem services like the storing of carbon from the atmosphere in their roots. These deep root systems also secure the soil and prevent erosion which can degrade local waterways and shorelines.

The forests will also provide habitat for endangered iconic Welsh animals, like the black grouse, Scottish wildcat, red squirrel, and the magnificent capercaillie.

Capercaillie by David Palmer, CC license

“The National Forest will be a Wales-wide asset, and communities across the country will be able to take part,” said Deputy Minister for Housing and Local Government Hannah Blythyn.

The inspiration for the project was drawn from a hiking trail that attracts millions of tourists every year called the Wales Coast Path—and the maps will be drawn up over the coming months by businesses, landowners, and other interested parties.

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£5 million ($5.7 million) has been allocated to complete the project, while another £10 million will go towards accompanied tree-planting programs through the Glastir farm grants program.

The Glastir Grants are one of a number of pieces of legislation meant to put a stop to diminishing natural wilderness, resources, and wildlife in the country while also attempting to modernize the agricultural sector in the face of a changing climate.

Farmers can apply for Glastir grants if they undertake tree-planting operations, or projects that prevent flooding, secure and regenerate soil quality or wildlife, or improve the farming and husbandry standards for domesticated animals and plants—and even when they restore heritage tourism opportunities.

RELATED: Scientists Use Recycled Sewage Water to Grow 500-Acre Forest in the Middle of Egyptian Desert

File photo by Chris Downer, CC

Getting Underway

Mr. Drakeford visited Gnoll Country Park in Neath, where the UK’s Woodland Trust is currently creating the largest new woodland in the charity’s history called the Brynau Wood, saying it will be an “amazing place for people to enjoy healthy outdoor exercise” as well as a mark towards a “healthier, more resilient environment”.

This is just one of a handful of large-scale projects aimed at restoring or protecting Welsh wilderness. Last week, work began on planting 1 million seagrass seeds off the Welsh coast in order to restore Welsh seagrass beds—a coastal marine plant that soaks up many times more carbon than trees.

“While the plan to create a National Forest for Wales is a Welsh government initiative, the Woodland Trust is very much in support of this,” Rory Francis, Communications Officer at Woodland Trust told GNN. “We were actually working to promote the idea even before the Welsh government and the First Minister personally, adopted the idea.”

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Brynau Wood is not Woodland Trust’s first foray into Welsh forests. In 2016 they purchased one of the country’s oldest woodlands, the Coed Felinrhyd rainforest in Snowdonia, an ancient oak forest dating from the last ice age and named in Mabinogion—the 12th century Welsh mythological story.

Woodland Trust also manages another forest called Coed y Felin, a new native-species woodland where announcement of the project was celebrated on March 12, as an example of what kind of forests will be included in the national forest.

Speaking to BBC, Prof. Mary Gagen, a climate scientist at the University of Swansea said that the national forest project was a genuinely positive announcement.

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“But what’s great is that this project also looks at habitat restoration, at retaining the trees we have at the moment, protecting our ancient forests and connecting areas so wildlife can use them,” she said.

Currently the government plans to start planting at a rate of 4,900 acres a year, increasing quickly to 10,000 acres per year.

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Scottish Government Scores Hole in One for Wildlife, Blocking Golf Course on Protected Coastline

On every continent, wildlife habitats of all kinds are threatened with development and construction, but perhaps none stand at greater risk than coastline ecosystems like estuaries, salt marshes, and coastal wetlands.

In Scotland one of the last remaining dune ecosystems of its kind in the entire country was just saved from an attempt to turn the unique sandy shore into a golf course.

The wetlands area known as Coul Links is a Ramsar site recognized by UNESCO, and part of the Dornoch Firth and Loch Fleet Special Protection Area.

After four years of campaigning by citizens and wildlife groups to preserve the coastline, home to over 1,200 species of plants and animals, some unique to Europe, Scottish ministers made their decision this week, refusing to allow the development to proceed.

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The Scottish Wildlife Trust, The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the IUCN, and Scottish Natural Heritage cheered the news after the application was declined on the 21st of February. The groups had been arguing that there were golf courses already serving the area—one that was controversial for the same reasons (and in the news media because of its celebrity owner).

“Today’s decision demonstrates that individuals can make a real difference by taking the time to stand up for nature,” commented the Wildlife Trust’s Chief Executive Jo Pike.

By Julian Paren / Geograph.org project, CC license

“Saving Coul Links from development is a strong sign that the Scottish Government is committed to protecting Scotland’s fantastic natural environment, and that it is prepared to make difficult decisions,” she added.

MOREScotland Added 22 Million New Trees Last Year, Carrying the UK Goal on its Green Shoulders

The East Sutherland site is an important stopover refuge for migratory waterfowl and other rare aquatic bird species—and after the golf course at Aberdeenshire was built over a coastal ecosystem, it looked like development of Coul Links was to be par for the course of modern development. Luckily for the wild places of Scotland and their admirers, a government is willing to stand up for them.

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Revolutionary New Recycling Method for Plastic and Waste is Killing Two Birds With One Stone

Carbon capturing and carbon sequestering, meaning the uptake and storage of CO2 molecules in a solid object, like a building or a tree which it can’t escape from, is one of the many tools for entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and businessmen, who want to do their part to combat the climate crisis.

Similarly, a startup working in Israel is eradicating one environmental toxin by placing it inside of another. UBQ Materials is taking household waste that would normally end up in landfills, and embedding it in liquefied recycled plastic to create “a thermoplastic, composite, bio-based, sustainable, climate-positive material”.

The trash is sorted, passed over a magnet to remove metals, before being dried and shredded into a kind of trash-confetti. It’s then added to plastic that’s ready for recycling and melted together before finally being dried and chopped into little pellets.

The resulting pellets can be easily shipped out and used in various manufacturing processes like injection molding and composite brick-making. Dye can be added at any point along the way to ensure the customer can have plastic of any color he desires.

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The company’s founders were so confidant that the science behind their revolutionary recycling process would prove successful they commissioned Swiss environmental consulting firm Quantis to perform an analysis on just how green their operation was.

Quantis found that substituting a ton of UBQ’s pellets for the same amount of polypropylene saves the equivalent of about 15 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, making it the most sustainable thermoplastic material on earth.

The concept of taking landfill-bound trash, which would generate harmful greenhouse-methane gas, and encasing it inside recycled plastic can be traced back, according to The Post, to an Israeli military man who thought that by mixing mud from the polluted Kishon River with plastic he might help the river recover. This idea never worked, but encasing environmentally-damaging substances in plastic that would then be used to make other materials and products and thereby ensuring it doesn’t have a chance to pollute (or further complicate the climate of) our planet, was a core concept which wasn’t abandoned.

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Generating a $50 million dollar fortune as a hummus food mogul, Rabbi Yehuda Pearl has helped the company go from a bankrupt idea to the brink of international acclaim and wealth through $3.5 million in slow savvy investing and R&D. UBQ, short for Ubiquitous. is already selling its thermoplastic composite plastic granule to Plasgad, an Israeli company that manufactures pallets, crates, and recycling bins—2,000 of which are on their way to the Central Virginia Waste Management Authority.

The UBQ facility on the Tze’elim Kibbutz can produce about one ton of their special material in an hour, resulting in between 5,000 and 7,000 tons produced annually. The company’s success is leading to a new facility that will produce 100,000 tons annually.

Share The Exciting News With Your Friends On Social Media – File photo by Michael Manas, CC license