Behind the Scenes in the WasteLAB

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On the exterior, the Kohler WasteLAB may look like an ordinary office and manufacturing space. But inside, extraordinary people are making extraordinary things happen. Kelsey Holtz is one of those people. 

As the Project Specialist for the lab, Kelsey spends her days as part of a highly specialized team focused on transforming pottery cull, foundry sand, enamel powder, glaze overspray and iron slag (i.e. Kohler’s traditional “waste” products) into products we can use and sell. With her background in interior design and sustainable business management, Kelsey coordinates the scheduling and production of existing and custom projects. 

“New projects are assessed based on several different factors, but we focus on if we have been successful with the same or similar concept in the past or if we have an opportunity to stretch ourselves by adding a new skill,” she explained. “We’re always experimenting with new combinations of materials, new designs and new colors.”

One of the WasteLAB’s most successful projects to date has been ANN SACKS Crackle Collection ceramic tiles. In a truly entrepreneurial fashion, the tiles are designed and manufactured in-house by the small team. 

“Creating something from nothing takes a lot of experimentation and flexibility. Each team member has their own general responsibilities, but we all help out where we can,” said Kelsey. “Just as in any sport, players rotate around the field as play continues. We adjust our tasks each day to the benefit of the team.  

There is no “typical” day in the WasteLAB, but that’s what draws Kelsey to it. Instead of searching for recycled content that would suit their desired projects, they work in the opposite manner—starting with the waste Kohler has on hand from its own manufacturing processes and determining how to create something beautiful and useful from it. The lab is ever evolving as it grows in both production capacity and projects. 

“My favorite part of working in the WasteLAB is sharing the story with others and knowing that what we are creating has a positive impact on the environment,” added Kelsey.

Their important work has not gone unnoticed. In 2019, the WasteLAB team won a Wisconsin Innovation Award in the Manufacturing category. They were recognized for their work in inspiring and engaging others to apply new product development processes to imagine new uses for manufacturing waste materials. 

 For more information on new WasteLAB products and Kohler sustainability, visit wastelab.kohler.com.