Of the industrial waste generated in Japan every year, approximately nine million tons are ultimately disposed of without being reduced or recycled1. Under its long-term environmental vision Panasonic GREEN IMPACT, the Panasonic Group is promoting an initiative to recycle factory waste to reduce emissions and promote efficient use of resources. The initiative aims to establish an ecosystem for upcycling artificial marble (solid surface), a material used for kitchen countertops2.
Offcuts as a resource: reducing waste within Panasonic Group
The project, led by the Manufacturing Innovation Division of Panasonic Holdings Co., hopes to develop expertise in upcycling factory offcuts into attractive products. Tooru Wada, who oversees the project, wants to refine this ecosystem until it can be applied sustainably throughout society.
Wada: “For this project, we focused on artificial marble used for kitchen countertops. Artificial marble is highly functional, robust, and lends itself to a wide range of designs. However, there will always be offcuts that cannot be used—for example, the cutout for the sink. We realized that it might be possible to turn the upcycling of this waste into a business by creating a system for entering the shapes of each offcut into a public database that creators could access. We began working on the concept in 2021.”
Wada approached Tomoki Kasahara at the Innovation Division of Panasonic Housing Solutions Corporation, who was in charge of kitchen countertop development.
Kasahara: “I’ve been in charge of designing and developing water-adjacent products and kitchen counters for many years. I’m confident about the quality of artificial marble, and I wanted to be involved in building the expertise to create a secondary use for it.”
Building a sustainable database and collaborating with external creators
Wada and Kasahara had already discovered that secondary processing of the offcuts was impractical due to the material’s strength, so their challenge was to create a system that allowed the offcuts to be utilized as is.
They developed a database platform where data on the shape of each offcut could be uploaded and accessed by creators. They then approached Loftwork Inc., a long-time co-creation partner of the Panasonic Group, to hold an exhibition introducing artificial marble and their database platform to creators.
Kasahara: “Many people encountered artificial marble for the first time at the exhibition and were surprised at its versatility. Those who already knew about it said that it was costly to obtain, but that using offcuts allowed them to kill two birds with one stone: cost and sustainability.”
The “as is” solution: from prototype to product
As new collaborations took shape in the wake of the exhibition, Panasonic decided to create its own prototype.
Four prototypes were completed and presented together with material samples in July 2022 at FabCafe Tokyo, located in Shibuya and operated by Loftwork.
Ideas born from co-creation take shape and evolve
Panasonic is advancing the commercialization of this project based on feedback from inside and outside the company. In December 2022, Hitoshi Iwasawa of Iwasawa Brothers, creators of the prototypes Generative Scaffolding and counter “a” part, unveiled a new work—an artificial marble counter table for FabCafe Tokyo.
Counter table installed at FabCafe Tokyo. The tabletop is made of a combination of white artificial marble and wood.
Iwasawa: “I was intrigued that the artificial marble we were working with was a material used exclusively for kitchen counters. It was robust enough to be used in a harsh environment, and its design is deliberately uneven to make it look more like real stone . . . It was also new for me to work with waste material where each cut is slightly different from the others. The hardness of the material made secondary processing difficult, but it was satisfying to find ways to utilize its characteristics in new ways and make it easier to use.”
Iwasawa: “If we had processed the offcuts further, we would have generated more waste, which led to the idea of using them as is. For the new table, we made use of the shape of the offcuts and combined them into a structure that we felt would be easy-to-use.”
Emi Nagashima of Loftwork managed the project and was pleased with the results: “This counter table is used by customers, and also helps create an open kitchen space for chefs to cook and serve food during events. People can sit at the counter table and relax. Hopefully, people will be inspired by this project to act against climate change. Our ultimate goal is to expand the project to other countries to have an even greater impact.”
Employee efforts to protect the environment are powerful force for social change
The initiative is making steady progress, and new connections continue to be formed.
Wada: “All products have a lifespan. I want to create an ecosystem where products at the end of their lifespan can be upcycled.”
Climate change is an urgent global issue that the Panasonic Group is committed to help tackle. As in this project, each employee's awareness of an issue can be the starting point for decisive action and meaningful collaboration with co-creation partners.
This is merely one example of the initiatives that are taking place across the Panasonic Group. Individual ACTs, accumulated over time, can change the world. Panasonic Group will keep working to channel the impact of individual ACTs and utilize this power to achieve its climate change goals.