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Upcycling efforts spread among Japanese companies

Japanese companies are increasingly engaging in upcycling efforts, or adding new value to used products and waste materials, as part of their environmental and social contributions and to generate profits.

In 2018, auto parts manufacturer Toyoda Gosei began making bags and other items by repurposing its core airbag products. Due to strict quality standards, airbag fabric used to be thrown away, even if it was slightly damaged or dirty. But through the upcycling initiative, the company has reduced textile waste by about 1,800 meters in fiscal 2023.

Toyoda Gosei has commissioned a facility that supports the employment of people with disabilities to produce the upcycled goods. The company is also working with a local university to develop such products.

Nagoya Railroad upcycles employee uniform jackets into shoulder bags. Previously, it paid to dispose of the jackets as industrial waste.

At a train-related event last December, 20 bags made from stationmasters’ uniforms and other items popular with train enthusiasts sold out in one day. The rail operator is considering developing other upcycled goods.

Tokai Rika makes bags, pouches and other goods from approximately 300 kilograms of material left over from the production of seat belts every day. These items, which are durable and long-lasting, have sold approximately 10,000 cases to date.

The company is expanding its line of upcycled products, including bags made from seat belt materials, vinyl curtains and tent fabric, and is reaching out to other companies to collaborate.

“It’s great to add value and create something useful,” says Shuri Arakawa, 41, of Tokai Rika’s new business marketing department.

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