Repurposing waste product.
Because TOTO maintains the highest quality standards, we cannot repair or sell fired porcelain toilets that emerge from the kiln with defects or imperfections. In the past, these products were sent to Construction and Demolition Debris (or C&D) landfills. Many companies would search for a single solution, a “silver bullet,” to solve this manufacturing challenge.
But at TOTO, we don’t believe in silver bullets. Instead, we search for several solutions to new problems. Sometimes they’re small changes, but over time, they can dramatically improve a factory’s operations, sustainability, and competitiveness.
In some cases, a bit of silver buckshot will be successful and hit its target. Other bits may miss, but those misses are valuable, too, because they help us to see new approaches to our challenges.
TOTO makes every effort to streamline our production processes to minimize defects, but some imperfections are inevitable. As part of our commitment to the environment, we looked for ways to recycle the fired porcelain toilets that don’t meet our quality standards. The silver buckshot approach yielded several solutions.
The first was to crush the porcelain and use it to rebuild oyster beds along the Georgia coast. In the harvesting process, oyster shells are collected from the seabed. Each new generation of oysters grows on top of the previous generation’s shells, which means that harvesting can reduce an oyster bed’s productivity over time—because once an oyster is eaten, its shell tends to stay on land, rather than returning to the ocean. Oyster producers were looking for a way to make their beds more fertile, and porcelain offered an attractive opportunity. TOTO embarked on a small pilot project with the University of Georgia, using nylon mesh bags filled with broken pieces of porcelain toilets. The bags hit the mark in rebuilding the oyster beds, but because they were exposed for part of the day as the tide receded, they fell short from an aesthetic standpoint.
Our next idea was to crush fired porcelain and provide it to Atlanta-area contractors for use in construction projects. The porcelain is ideally suited for backfill and for use as a base in road construction—a bullseye for the silver buckshot.
But perhaps the best solution was developing a partnership with a Tennessee company called Crossville Tile. We partnered with them to license a TOTO technology called Hydrotect. Our unique fired porcelain, when crushed into very small pieces, became the raw material from which Crossville began producing porcelain tile. By “upcycling” our waste product, we provided Crossville with high-quality raw material. In turn, they’re able to market and sell a sustainable product that contains recycled material.
Some solutions work well, and others only partially—but each one teaches us something new. Silver buckshot is at the heart of our manufacturing strategy
TOTO’s trial-and-error approach to problem-solving has had an impact on people, the planet, and water. Even our misses are sometimes hits. Here’s how:
The sharing economy. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure—just ask Crossville Tile. Imperfect TOTO toilets can be “upcycled” into new ceramic tile, reducing our impact on landfills and providing Crossville Tile with yet another selling point.
Reject toilets become raw material. Manufacturing defects may prevent us from putting the TOTO name on a finished product—but even when we’re not comfortable selling a toilet, we’re happy to hand it off to a steamroller for use in road construction.
Preserving natural beauty. Although oysters seemed at home in TOTO’s kiln-fired oyster beds, beachgoers didn’t love the way they looked at low tide. The pilot program ended, and a new solution emerged.
TOTO donates all imperfect fired porcelain to Crossville Tile for recycling and re-use as floor tiles.