Environment : Evolution of Recycling-Oriented Manufacturing

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Evolution of Recycling-Oriented Manufacturing

We use many kinds of resources, including iron (28% of total resources used) and plastic (10% of total resources used), because of our wide range of products and businesses, from home appliances, components such as semiconductors and batteries, housing, and B2B solutions. In recycling-oriented manufacturing, we are further working on reducing the input of virgin resources, while increasing the amount of recycled resources. And in that context, we are working to establish a circular system according to resource type and features.

Furthermore, we are clarifying recycled resource use by identifying the volume of each type of resource used across the Panasonic Group. For example, in the case of recycled resin, we used approx. 15.2kt of recycled resin in our products in fiscal 2021. We are developing the necessary actions to take in order to get the features required for components, securing stable amounts of supplied components, improving the components for the use phase at design and manufacturing sides, and developing new recycling technologies.

As stated above, we are making steady progress in achieving the goals of Green Plan 2021 for the effective use of recycled resin products. In addition, we are developing materials with less environmental impact, such as resins developed from plant-derived materials, and incorporating them in products.

As for the factory waste recycling rate*1, we had traditionally set different targets for Japan and countries outside Japan according to the relevant local infrastructures. However, given increased awareness of the importance of zero waste emission activities, we have set a globally standardized target since fiscal 2011 and are taking steps to improve the standard level of waste recycling across the entire Group. The factory waste recycling rate in fiscal 2021 was 98.7% compared to our target of more than 99%, falling short of the target. We will analyze the issues and introduce measures to achieve the target in the future.

*1 Factory waste recycling rate = Amount of resources recycled/(Amount of resources recycled + Amount of landfill)

Breakdown of Input Virgin Resources Used in Fiscal 2021 (by category)

Of the total resources used in fiscal 2021, iron accounts for 28%, plastics for 10%, construction materials for 10%, wooden materials 6%, metals other than iron for 6%, paper and cardboard for 5% and others for 35%.

Results of Recycled Resin Usage (Cumulative total from fiscal 2015)

Changes of the recycled resin usage (cumulative total from fiscal 2015) were  16,000 tons in FY2015,  34,700 tons in FY2016, 50,600 tons in FY2017,  64,900 tons in FY2018,  79,400 tons in FY2019, 92,800 tons in FY2020, and 108,000 tons in FY2021.

Reduction in Resources Used

To minimize the use of resources for production, we continuously look to reduce the weight of our products. Through the Product Environmental Assessment, Panasonic has been promoting resource saving from the product planning and design stage, such as using less resources, making our products lighter and smaller, and using less components. We also implement various measures from the standpoint of resource recycling throughout the product life cycle, such as component reuse, longer durability, use of recycled resources, easier battery removal, and labels necessary for collection/recycling.

Use of Sustainable Materials

Under the concept of "product-to-product", we are enhancing our initiatives of utilizing resources recovered from used products. As for resin, we promote the reuse of resin recovered from our used home appliances (refrigerators, air conditioners, washing machines, and TVs) for our products. We also started recycling scrap iron recovered from used home appliances in our products in 2013.

Products manufactured, delivered to customers and used are later collected to recycle resources, which are in turn used to manufacture products.

Enhanced Use of Recycled Resin

To efficiently utilize resin recovered from used home appliances in addition to metals such as iron, copper, and aluminum, our recycling factory, Panasonic Eco Technology Center Co., Ltd. (PETEC), and Kato Plastic Recycling Factory of the Appliances Company work together for resin recycling.

Process of Resin Recycling

Using technologies such as our original near-infrared identification technology, PETEC is capable of sorting shredder residue of waste home appliances into three major types of resins with different purposes and properties—polypropylene (PP), acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), and polystyrene (PS)—at a material purity of over 99%.

The recycled single resins sorted and recovered at PETEC are then transferred to the adjacent Kato Plastic Recycling Factory to be further purified and processed to recover their chemical properties. Kato Plastic Recycling Factory is a manufacturing and development site that demonstrates promotion of use of recycled resin at our Appliances Company, a home appliance manufacturer and seller. The factory plays an important role in enhancing recycled resin utilization by developing recycling technologies, such as a more efficient method that improves the performance of recycled resin. Generally, the strength and lifespan of resin deteriorate over time. This is why its chemical properties have to be recovered to the level of new resin to make them usable as materials and components in new products. Because of the differences in the physical properties required by different products, we have been examining the properties of recycled polypropylene and polystyrene and have developed technologies to create new formulas for resin components, adding our own proprietary antioxidant and mixing recycled resin with new resin.

Near-infrared sorting machine that can sort three types of resin simultaneously

Development and Use of New Sustainable Materials

Cellulose fiber can be derived from various natural resources, such as wood residues from forest thinning, and other organic wastes, and it is now drawing attention as a resource with low environmental impact. In fiscal 2019, Panasonic developed a composite polypropylene (PP) resin containing plant-derived cellulose fiber as an additive. In fiscal 2019, we developed a molding material mixed with plant-derived cellulose fiber. This new eco-conscious cellulose fiber molding material is used in the frame parts of the Panasonic cordless stick-type vacuum cleaner and contributes to its reduced weight, one of the most important features of the product. In fiscal 2020, the content of the cellulose fiber could even be increased to more than 55% while maintaining the whiteness of the material thanks to our special processing technology.
Using this technology, we also developed the reusable cup, Forest Tumbler, together with Asahi Breweries, Ltd. The cup won the FY2020 Environment Minister's Award for Promotion of a Recycling-Based Society, hosted by the Ministry of the Environment, in recognition both of its advanced technology, which utilizes more than 55% natural plantderived resources, and its innovative value.

Forest Tumbler
70% high density cellulose fiber composition materials

In fiscal 2021, we further advanced the technology to increase the amount of cellulose fiber, and established a process that enables 70% cellulose fiber composition, along with a technology that can smoothly mold the material into products. These technologies increase the plasticity of the material despite the high content of cellulose fiber, enabling product designs intended to feature the natural feel of the material. (The product received the MEXT Minister’s Prize under the FY2021 50th Japan Industrial Grand Prize held by Nikkan Kogyo Shimbun, Ltd.)

In the area of housing materials, we exclusively developed an eco-conscious wood-based flooring substrate that utilizes 100% recycled wooden materials (excluding glue) made from construction waste. Thanks to our wide-ranging processing technologies, we successfully created a substrate with high density with superior solidity compared with general plywood and which offers excellent scratch and dent resistance. The starch in wooden materials can attract insects (lyctus), however, our product is insect resistant as it has a low starch content. This is because the wooden materials used in the product are mainly derived from conifers and old broadleaf trees are only used sparingly. The product is also waterproof due to our exclusive technology. This product can reduce the consumption of natural materials and also contributes to preserving biodiversity.

We intend to develop more new products with this technology, focusing also on developing new recyclable resources.

Building a Recycling Scheme for Scrap Iron

Jointly with Tokyo Steel Co., Ltd., we started a recycling scheme for scrap iron in July 2013. In this scheme, we recover the scrap iron from used home appliances and Tokyo Steel makes it into steel sheets. We then purchase the sheets back as a material for our products. Supplying scrap iron for recycling and repurchasing the recycled iron is the first scheme of its kind in the Japanese electrical manufacturing industry.

Self-recycling Scheme for Electric Steel Plates

Specifically, scrap iron from home appliances collected and treated at PETEC and Panasonic Eco Technology Kanto Co., Ltd. is supplied to Tokyo Steel, where the scrap iron is processed into electric steel plates.*2 Panasonic procures the recycled steel plates and utilizes them in products. Discussions with Tokyo Steel commenced in 2010, and we have worked together since then to improve the quality of recycled iron to a level sufficient for production use, as well as developing the technology to improve the applicability of the recycled iron. From this we identified the optimum application of the electric steel plates, and refined its specific features (e.g. shape, strength, and weldability) to meet applicationspecific requirements. Use of thin electric steel plates in our products was first made possible in 2011. Through this close collaboration, we materialized this recycling scheme in 2013, a scheme where a home appliance recycling company that we own supplies scrap iron to be used to make electric steel plates.

The amount of scrap iron we initially supplied to Tokyo Steel was about 50t per month. In fiscal 2021, it reached over 2.6kt per year, and the recycled steel is being used in our products, including washing machines and ceiling materials for housing.

Self-recycling Scheme Process

The increase in electric steel plate usage leads to an increase in the usage of scrap iron, which is one of the most important resources in Japan. In addition, producing steel plates from scrap iron emits much less CO2 compared with producing steel plates from scratch. This scheme also stabilizes the procurement price, because the price of scrap iron supplied from PETEC and the price of electric steel plates procured from Tokyo Steel are determined by the scrap iron fluctuation rate agreed between the two companies. We will further expand this recycling scheme for more efficient resource utilization, CO2 emissions reduction, and stabilization of procurement prices.

*2 Steel produced from scrap iron melted and refined in an electric arc furnace.

Zero Waste Emissions—Improving Factory Waste Recycling Rate

From the viewpoint of effective usage of resources, we believe that generation of waste and revenue-generating waste at factories must be minimized, even if such waste could be sold as valuable commodities. Based on this belief, we identify the amount of generated waste (including both revenue-generating waste and factory generated waste) and classify it into: (1) recyclable waste (including those that can be sold and those which can be transferred free of charge or by paying a fee), (2) waste that can be reduced by incineration or dehydration, and (3) landfill (waste with no option other than being sent to landfills).

We reduce the emission of waste by boosting yield in our production process and increasing the recycling rate of our waste materials. Accordingly, we strive globally toward achieving our Zero Waste Emissions from Factories*3 goal by reducing the amount of landfill to nearly zero. We have reinforced such efforts particularly in China and other Asian countries, where many of our factories are located.

With the waste plastic import control introduced in China, the volume of material being recycled has dropped, leading to an increase in landfill waste disposal. As a result, the factory waste recycling rate in fiscal 2021 was 98.7%, falling short of the 99% target in our Green Plan 2021. We will introduce more activities which aim to maintain and improve the factory waste recycling rate.

As a means to reduce the generation of waste, we are fostering resource-saving product design. In our production activities, we are engaging in resource loss reduction, employing our own unique material flow analysis methods. We consider materials that do not become products and excessive use of consumables as resource losses, and make the material flow and lost values for each process visible in order to resolve the issues with close collaboration with the design, manufacturing, and other relevant business divisions. In the future, we will promote further reductions in resource losses through the Resource Loss Navigation, our original system developed to automatically display information to help reduce resource losses.

As measures to reduce the amount of landfill of waste and revenue-generating waste, we constrain the amount of waste materials that are particularly difficult to recycle, such as thermosetting resin. We are also strictly adhering to waste sorting practices in production processes to further expand the reuse of resources.

Because waste recycling rates in our overseas factories lag behind those in Japan, we have worked to improve the average level of recycling activities by sharing information within and between regions outside Japan. Specifically, in addition to accelerating the information sharing on waste recycling issues between our local factories and group companies in Japan, we also promote the sharing of excellent examples and know-how among our factories across regions by utilizing BA Charts*4 prepared by each region, following our long-standing approach toward CO2 reduction activities.

*3 Definition by Panasonic: Recycling rate of 99% or higher. Recycling rate = Amount of resources recycled/(amount of resources recycled + amount of landfill).
*4 A chart-format summary of comparisons between "before and after" implementation of waste reduction and recycling measures.

Amount and Recycling Rate of Total Wastes Including Revenue-generating Waste

Amount (recycling rate) of total wastes including revenue-generating waste came to 363 thousand tons (99.0%) in fiscal 2017, 372 thousand tons (99.1%) in fiscal 2018, 374 thousand tons (99.1%) in fiscal 2019, 344 thousand tons (98.9%) in fiscal 2020, 303 thousand tons (98.7%) in fiscal 2021,

Breakdown of Total Wastes Including Revenuegenerating Waste (by region)

Total wastes including revenue-generating waste shows 303 thousand tons in fiscal 2021, of which Japan accounts for 41%, Southeast Asia & Oceania for 23%, China & Northeast Asia for 22%, North America & Latin America for 8%, Europe & CIS for 4%, and India, South Asia, Middle East & Africa for 2%.

Breakdown of Landfill (by region)

Total landfill shows 3.4 thousand tons in fiscal 2021, of which Southeast Asia & Oceania for accounts for 44%, North America & Latin America for 31%, China & Northeast Asia for 11%, Japan for 10%, India, South Asia, Middle East & Africa for 2%, and Europe & CIS for 2%.

Breakdown of Total Wastes Including Revenue-generating Waste for Fiscal 2021 (by category)

(kt)

Items

Total wastes

Recycled

Landfill

Metal scrap

129

127

0.6

Paper scrap

34

33

0.06

Plastics

37

34

1

Acids

22

14

0.2

Sludge

10

9

0.3

Wood

24

20

0.03

Glass/ceramics

3

3

0.1

Oil

20

19

0.05

Alkalis

9

7

0.003

Other*5

13

11

0.8

Total

303

279

3.4

*5 Combustion residue, fiber scraps, animal residue, rubber scraps, debris, ash particles, items treated for disposal, slag, infectious waste, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), waste asbestos.