Waste Makes Tiles and More
At the KOHLER WasteLAB, we are looking for ways to see the world differently. Here, we look to nature as a model for sustainable processes—within nature’s cycles of growth and decay, waste simply doesn’t exist. Our work in the WasteLAB applies the systems we find in nature to our manufacturing process.
Through this exploration, we’re able to take a step toward building a sustainable circular economy, one in which we reuse, rethink and repurpose our waste streams to create beautiful, thoughtful products. We recently launched the first of these products, the Crackle Collection, in partnership with ANN SACKS®.
The Crackle Collection tiles are handmade by WasteLAB artisans and decorated with a dimensional visual effect achieved with a unique glaze designed to pool and break over the textured surface during firing. Tapping into current bold color trends, the Crackle Collection features the rich shades of Mahogany, Amber, Emerald, Bone, Turquoise and Lake.
The WasteLAB is just one of several success stories to come out of Kohler’s innovation startup Innovation for Good (IfG), the second of our three social impact areas–Stewardship, Innovation for Good and Sustainability. Going forward, we’re exploring new methods, new waste streams and the potential for so much more. We’ve barely begun to imagine what’s possible.
POTTERY DRY CULL
Dry cull is a by-product of the vitreous china process. We put as much dry cull back into production as possible, but a percentage is not suitable for our vitreous china products. 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 molding process. We’re experimenting with spent sand in our clay bodies, concrete products and for rammed-earth building materials.
WASTE GLAZE AND ENAMEL POWDER
Some enamel powder falls to the floor and becomes “dirty” during enameling, so we can’t reintroduce it into the process as pure enamel. Instead, we’re using it as a material in our glazes and experimenting to find new color effects.
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 our clay tile bodies.
The type of thinking that gives rise to projects like the WasteLAB is nurtured at Kohler through the Innovation for Good (IfG) program. Open to everyone, IfG brings together associates from functions across the company and around the world to develop solutions to real-world problems that can be scaled globally.
Bringing safe drinking water to the people who need it most.
CLOSED-LOOP ADVANCED SANITATION SYSTEM (CLASS)
Designing closed-loop flush toilet systems for people without access to sanitation.
Frequently Asked Questions
CAN PEOPLE TOUR THE WasteLAB?
The WasteLAB is a new kind of factory where learning and collaboration is paramount. Each person brings passions, skills and drive to make a difference in the world as we progress our understanding of what it means to be a manufacturer and as we redefine business, production and craftsmanship. Tours will be offered selectively for those interested in partnering with Kohler or learning how to reuse their own industrial waste materials.
DOES THE WasteLAB PARTNER WITH OTHER MANUFACTURERS OR ARTISTS?
Yes! We are always looking to make connections beyond the Kohler walls to see what sparks of innovation might ignite a new project. We recently partnered with ANN SACKS, a decorative brand owned by Kohler, to create the Crackle Collection by Kohler WasteLAB, launching in mid April 2019.
HOW CAN I GET INVOLVED?
To connect with the team to suggest new product ideas or explore partnership opportunities, email us using the online form below.
Meet Our Team
Project Manager – Sustainability and Stewardship
The inspiration. The glue.
Theresa has been with Kohler since 1988, beginning in the Wisconsin Pottery in artistic and technical development and the supervision of the Artist Editions® production team. She transitioned to industrial design where she worked in both Artist Editions and Sanitary businesses, and has spent the last nine years focused on Kohler Sustainability and Stewardship.
The explorer. The scientist.
Jim has been with Kohler since 1988, beginning as a technician for the John Michael Kohler Arts Center Arts/Industry program. He later moved into Kohler New Product Development, where he supported numerous teams with artistic and technical support for Artist Editions, Nature’s Chemistry and color development. In his role today, he works as a hands-on technical designer of materials and processes.
Sr. Industrial Designer – WasteLAB
The designer. The maker.
Monty has been with Kohler since 2008, working as an Industrial Designer – Material and Process in the decorative products category. He has extensive experience as a practicing artist and designer. He is primarily responsible for the development of new materials, products and processes working as a hands-on designer, as well as supporting others through design, education and outreach.
Sr. Project Engineer – WasteLAB
The realist. The engineer.
Josh has been with Kohler since 2013 working in various vitreous china new product integration and operations engineering roles. He has extensive technical experience in material science and ceramic engineering. He provides technical direction for our design efforts and oversees planning, scheduling and coordination of development needs including equipment and materials. He also provides support for education and outreach to the extended new product development community.