Kohler Co. broke the mold last year when it went to market with a new line of interior wall tiles made from almost 100% dust, powder and scraps bound for landfills.
The hand-cut, ceramic Crackle Collection under Kohler’s Ann Sacks brand marks the first product to launch out of the Kohler WasteLab, an offshoot of the company’s innovation startup Innovation for Good.
Working from a corner of the company’s enamel shop, WasteLab reuses landfill-destined materials from the company’s Sheboygan County campus to create new products such as ceramic tiles for kitchen and bathrooms, tabletops, and other projects still in development – all in the name of improving productivity and reducing waste.
“As our manufacturing plants drive efficiencies, they generate less waste,” said Theresa Millard, sustainability and stewardship project manager at Kohler and co-founder of Kohler WasteLab. “This challenges us to continuously innovate processing of new production waste streams.”
Since 2008, Kohler’s waste-to-landfill rate has reduced by 48%, and the company is working toward big goals of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions and solid waste sent to landfills by 2035.
WasteLab’s role is changing the way people think about waste streams when they’re designing new products. And those efforts haven’t gone unnoticed externally.
“Since its debut, the Crackle Collection has been lauded by both the design and sustainability community,” said Millard.
The Crackle Collection is named after the tiles’ shattered visual effect, which occurs when glaze breaks over its clay face during the firing process. And its palette of mahogany, amber, emerald, bone, turquoise and lake keep up with bold color trends.
Millard said innovation around reuse could be “game changing” for companies that currently generate high-value waste materials and have to pay to send them away to a landfill.
A good place to start is exploring opportunities with the highest value – not only monetarily, but also related to branding, learning, innovation or R&D, she said.
“The world cannot continue as is in regard to material use, so the work we’re doing at WasteLab is also about risk reduction, which uses one of Kohler’s core competencies of innovation and product development,” Millard said.