Designer    Focus 22 Mar 2018

Pulling back the curtain on Kohler’s innovative Waste Lab facility and its eco-friendly aims

Sustainability and environmental impact is a topic that has concerned the kitchen and bathroom industry for many years now, but only recently has come to the fore of concentration. Some companies, such as Kohler are taking an active approach to reduce their carbon footprint and improve their environmental impact, while still maintaining the same standard of quality and design in each product.

Kohler’s Waste Lab was set up in order to provide the company with a place to research the unfound potential of its wasted by-products, the dominant of these being dust. The Kohler Waste Lab website explains: ‘Dust. Powder. Scraps. Waste—it’s what we first see when we look at our factories, when we pull back the curtain and examine what materials are spent and left over in the manufacturing process. The Waste Lab is a place where we take another look at that dust and ask, “What if?”

‘What if this waste, bound for the landfill, has hidden value we haven’t explored? What if it simply takes a new way of seeing to find value where now we see waste? What if a manufacturing company can be regenerative? The Waste Lab is where we ask, “What if?” and experiment until we find answers; until we turn waste into something meaningful.’

Currently the plant is actively using industrial waste to craft high-end tiles for Ann Sacks. The dedicated team use second-hand tools to test waste materials before applying them to craft a series of dry-press tiles and artistic glazes.

The key players in the Kohler Waste Lab:

Theresa Millard, Project manager, has worked with Kohler since 1988, in the Wisconsin Pottery sector before moving into industrial design and has since spent the past nine years focused on Kohler sustainability and stewardship.

Jim Neiman, Artist-at-Large, has also been with the company since 1988, moving from his original role as a technician to artistically supporting product development teams and now works as a hands-on technical designer of materials and processes.

Monty Stauffer, Industrial Designer, joined Kohler in 2008 as an Industrial Designer and has a wealth of experience that was previously applaied to the company’s decorative products category and is now being put to positive use developing new materials, products and processes and educating others through the brand’s New Product Development community programme.

Josh Boyce, Sr. Project Engineer, is the newest recruit on the Waste Lab team, having joined the company in 2013. Boyce worked across various Vitreous New Product Integration and Operations Engineering roles before becoming part of the new team, providing technical direction for the design and oversees planning, scheduling and the co-ordination of development needs.

Down to the dust:

The Waste Lab uses four main ingredients, or types of dust, to create its unique recycled products.

Pottery dry cull

Dry cull is a by-product of the vitreous process. This dry clay material makes a great tile body.

Spent foundry sand

Spent or ‘green’ sand is a mix of clay, beach sand, corn cobs, coal and water. It is recycled again and again until the sand particles are too small for the moulding process. The company experiments with this when making its clay bodies and concrete products.

Waste glaze and enamel powder

Some enamel powder falls to the floor and becomes ‘dirty’ during enameling, so Kohler cannot use it as a pure enamel, but, instead, use it in glazes to find new colour effects.

Foundry dust

Foundry dust is made up of fine particles of sand, coal, clay, grinding dust, rust, dirt and some blasted enamel. It is a by-product of nearly every step of cast-iron manufacturing. Foundry dust forms the basis of Kohler’s clay tile bodies.

What does the future hold for the Kohler Waste Lab?

Being such an innovative project, the Kohler Waste Lab works in a constant state of development; crafting new methods of production, new materials and new products regularly. The company say they are ‘thinking about rammed earth structures and how we could partner with architects and builders. We’re playing with the possibility of making garment buttons from foundry waste and sink scrubbers from coffee grounds.

To discover more about Kohler’s innovative Waste Lab facility, watch the video, below…




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