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Sustainably Recycling Porcelain

Ever on the lookout for ways to improve its manufacturing processes, TOTO turns its trash into treasure by recycling all of its scrap porcelain to a tile manufacturer and achieving its goal of zero waste


With its exceptionally designed, water-conserving one-piece toilets, TOTO contributes to protecting the planet and enhancing the quality of life for people around the world everyday. Yet, as efficient and effective as they are, the complexity of the design of one-piece toilets makes them susceptible to minor imperfections and defects in the manufacturing and firing process, which means a sizable proportion of the toilets must be scrapped and never makes it to market. “Depending on the yield, we may have to throw away as much as 30 percent of the product,” says William Strang, chairman of TOTO Mexico and president of operations in the Americas for TOTO USA.

Given its commitment to sustainable manufacturing processes, TOTO explored a variety of ways to recycle the imperfect products rather than send them to a construction and demolition debris landfill. “It is interesting that often companies seek a single solution, a ‘silver bullet,’ to solve their challenges in lean manufacturing, sustainable practices and cost reduction opportunities,” says Strang, “But it is the contention of TOTO that a single silver bullet does not exist—however, what does exist is ‘silver buckshot,’ many small solutions that are cumulative over time and very impactful in the way that they improve the operations innovation, sustainability, and competitiveness of a manufacturing facility.”


Among the efforts TOTO undertook in its broad-based approach to solving this particular problem was a pilot project collaboration with the University of Georgia. Bags of crushed porcelain were used to rebuild oyster beds along the Georgia coast, where harvesting by restaurants depletes the shells upon which the next generation of oysters propagate. During their research, the team determined that solution – while effective – was not aesthetically appealing, as the bags of broken porcelain would be visible for part of the day when the tide receded from the shoreline. So the idea was scratched off the list of possibilities.

Although this portion of TOTO’s buckshot approach partially missed the mark, two other ideas resulted in direct hits. The first idea was to crush the fired porcelain and offer it to suppliers in the Atlanta area for use as backfill for construction projects or as an aggregate base for road construction—and this solution proved to be viable.

The second idea emerged as a byproduct of a collaboration between TOTO and Crossville, a Tennessee-based tile manufacturer, with whom TOTO later partnered to license a surface coating technology it developed called Hydrotect. “I happened to be sitting next to Crossville’s vice president of manufacturing at an industry meeting,” says Bhavik Patel, director of business strategy at its Morrow facility. “Because Crossville is known to have the same reputation for sustainability as TOTO, I mentioned the opportunity we had for them to recycle our fired scrap porcelain into tile, and we later discussed different measures we could take to make this happen and came up with a system for recycling that would be beneficial to both companies,” he explains.


Crossville’s team performed tests to determine the ingredients in the scrap porcelain, they found that the constituent components used by both companies were similar and determined that TOTO’s crushed porcelain could actually be used as a resource for raw material to produce their porcelain tile. “They can use anywhere from 2 to 40 percent of our recycled post-manufacturing scrap as content in their products, depending on the tile,” says Patel. “We started by giving them product from our Morrow facility, and then learned they could consume more, so they now take all of our porcelain scrap, including toilets, tanks, and lavatories, from our Lakewood plant and Fairburn assembly center as well, allowing us to achieve our internal initiative of ‘zero waste,’ from operations,” he explains.

After engineers from both companies refined the logistics for optimum safety and maximum efficiency in truck transportation, the recycling process not only provides a “huge cost savings for both companies, but also provides a huge environmental impact reduction that helps the planet,” says Patel. It also has a significant impact on TOTO’s Life Cycle Analysis score, a third-party-verified voluntary certification program developed by NSF International. Sustainable initiatives like this one have earned TOTO numerous environmental awards, including the EPA’s prestigious Water Efficiency Leader award for its efforts to promote an ethic of water efficiency through outstanding leadership and innovation in product development, sustainable manufacturing processes, and water conservation advocacy. TOTO was also awarded the Best in Class Business Award for its leadership in raising the environmental efficiency bar throughout Georgia by developing popular and affordable high-efficiency plumbing products, partnering with other businesses to generate significant water and energy savings, and developing green business practices that reflect a commitment to conservation and sustainability.

“This idea provided buckshot that not only hit the target, but also hit right to the heart of a wonderful solution,” says Strang. It is also a reflection of the lofty standards that TOTO continually aspires to improve.

Benefits for PeoplePlanetWater

TOTO’s wide range of one-piece toilets, many of which are ADA compliant, WaterSense and/or CalGreen certified, provide lots of tangible benefits for people, the planet, and water. Those with imperfections that don’t make it to market are now completely recycled, meaning TOTO’s manufacturing process also offers sustainable benefits, including the following:


Cost savings. By donating all of its scrap porcelain to Crossville, a Tennessee-based tile manufacturer, TOTO saves on costs it would incur to haul the material to landfill and Crossville saves money that would be used to purchase raw material for its tile products, creating a win-win for both companies. Lower manufacturing costs result in lower costs to consumers as well—a net positive for all.


Zero waste. Since 100 percent of its porcelain scrap is now recycled by another company, TOTO has achieved its internal goal of “zero waste” from operations, and Crossville reduces its environmental impact by incorporating a percentage of post-manufacturing recycled content into its products.


Reduced environmental impact. Less debris in a construction and demolition landfill means a lower environmental impact on the land. Cleaner land translates to cleaner water.

Since the start of the recycling program in 2011, Crossville recycled approximately 20 million pounds of fired scrap porcelain from TOTO.