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This session introduces Panasonic's efforts to develop technologies for recovering resources from discarded home appliances and reusing them.
Taeko Aoe, Senior Coordinator, Resource & Chemical Substance Group, Corporate Environmental Affairs Division, Panasonic Corporation
Kazuyuki Tomita, President, Panasonic Eco Technology Center Co., Ltd. October 8, 2010
Aoe: Panasonic is addressing "recycle-oriented manufacturing" in order to effectively use the resources on our planet. First, I'd like to talk about the situation surrounding resources. Many people are aware that resources are limited in supply. However, the consumption of resources continues to increase. In the case of copper, for example, consumption has increased by about six times from the level in 1950.
At a copper mining site, mountains are destroyed and the ground is dug to depths of 1,000 meters. To obtain one ton of copper, 300 tons of soil and stone must be removed. The amount of soil and stone to be excavated is five tons to obtain one ton of iron, ten tons to obtain one ton of aluminum, 160,000 tons to obtain one ton of silver, and 1.8 million tons to obtain one ton of gold. Soil and stones that were removed and allowed to flow into rivers have damaged the health of local residents in some areas. Recycling resources alleviates environmental destruction resulting from excavation and also helps to stabilize the prices of resources, which have a tendency to rise in the medium to long term. In other words, our society is now required to reuse resources after their initial use.
With regard to manufacturing, there are a number of stages in which resources are consumed or handled: the use of resources as raw materials, the use of resources in the manufacture of products, the recycling of discarded products, and the recovery of resources. In 2008, the usage rate of recycled resources was 8% at Panasonic. Panasonic aims to raise this rate to 16% or higher by 2018. To that end, the company is expanding the use of recycled resources. Now, I'd like to introduce Mr. Tomita, who is in charge of home appliance recycling.
Tomita: Thank you for introduction. Panasonic Eco Technology Center (PETEC) was established to recycle home appliances discarded from households.
Aoe: I understand that products are manually disassembled, crushed by machines, and then sorted into metal and plastic groups at the Center.
Tomita: Yes, last year PETEC processed about 1,050,000 products. PETEC is open to the public for the purpose of environmental learning. In one year, more than 10,000 people take our plant tour. At the end of August 2010, PETEC welcomed our 100,000th visitor. The resources recovered from seven million discarded home appliances during the nine and half years from 2001 when the Electric Appliance Recycling Law was enacted amount to 110,000 tons of iron, which is equivalent to 138,000 automobiles; 17,200 tons of copper, which is equivalent to 69 statues of the Great Buddha of Nara; and 10,000 tons of aluminum, which is equivalent to 85 Jumbo Jets.
Aoe: Recovering resources at the recycling facility is not the end of the recycling activities, is it?
Tomita: In the case of air conditioners, after the units are disassembled manually to a certain extent, they're crushed by a machine. Then, resources are recovered from the crushed materials. For example, iron can be collected by using magnets. Some metals are collected by using the difference in their specific gravity. To recover resins, a newly developed technology allows high-precision sorting. By using near-infrared rays, it can sort 99% of the resins by type, such as PP, PE and ABS. Panasonic has used 5,000 tons of recycled resins a year, and we intend to double our use of recycled resins. However, unrecyclable waste remains even after all these recycling efforts. It is usually burned in an incinerator plant and disposed of at a landfill. Panasonic successfully developed a technology to produce a fuel from the urethane that is used as an insulating material in refrigerators. If unprocessed urethane is burned, it doesn't generate heat effectively and may produce harmful gasses. By converting urethane to a low-chlorine solid fuel, waste urethane can be safely reused. Panasonic has also developed equipment that uses a catalyst to change other waste into harmless gases and recover the remaining metals.
Tomita: Next, I'll discuss technologies for making full use of recycled resources. Recycled materials must be returned to resources in a usable form. In the case of plastic parts, for example, paint and other extraneous materials are removed. Then, they're processed into bead-shaped pellets to become a reusable resin. This resin is used to produce new products. Since there are types of resin that are not reusable as raw materials for home appliances, we're examining a new way to use them, such as foaming them to produce insulating materials. Panasonic also developed a technology called the Pelletizeless technique. After the waste resin is finely crushed, this method causes resin particles to rub against one another to remove paint and other extraneous materials, and then molds the resin, thus dramatically reducing the number of processes. Since this method does not pelletize the resin, there's no need to use heat to melt it.
The second technology I'll discuss is for making full use of recycled wood materials. A panel made by solidifying wood chips is called a chipboard. An ordinary chipboard has a drawback, though, in that it wrinkles easily when exposed to water, and warps when exposed to heat. By using a new adhesive to apply a hard material onto its surface layer, we have produced a wood panel that can be used instead of luan wood. This technology was awarded the Eco Product Grand Prize by the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Ministry of the Environment.
Another technology is used to produce blocks and other shapes by foaming the glass of recycled cathode ray tubes. These blocks are used in the pathways around PETEC.
Aoe: Here at Panasonic Center Tokyo, the blocks are used for the walkway to the 'eco ideas HOUSE.' When sprayed with water, water-retaining blocks reduce the surface temperature by more than 10°C as compared to the surface temperature of asphalt under the scorching summer sun.
Tomita: Panasonic is also making efforts to link recycling facilities to our production plants. For instance, Panasonic lets product designers experience working at a recycling facility. By actually disassembling the products they have designed, the designers are able to take recycling into greater consideration in the design stage. This requires the cooperation of the Manufacturing Department. The Panasonic Group strives to link resource recycling efforts to all facets of its operations.
Air conditioners are an example of products in which recycled resources are used. The heat exchangers in air conditioners are made of copper and aluminum. Discarded heat exchangers are crushed, and metals are recovered in near 100% purity. Ordinarily, purity is improved through a refining process after the metal is recovered from the crushed material, but Panasonic has achieved such a high level of purity during the recovery process that the recovered material can be supplied directly to a copper pipe manufacturer. This shortens the delivery route to the manufacturing plant. Panasonic is expanding the use of recycled resources by creating an "in-house recycling model" that includes a process of parts production using recycled resources.
Aoe: Panasonic develops various recycling technologies, and addresses global resource issues squarely through the concerted efforts of both its sectors and companies, with the aim of achieving a sustainable society.