At Inhabitat, we bring you a slew of interesting stories about how companies around the world incorporate recycling into their supply chains, but the chance to actually peek inside the factories where these processes occur is indeed a rare treat. That's why we were thrilled when Panasonic offered to take us behind the scenes at their Osaka, Japan recycling factory where they turn glass from old CRT TVs and monitors into glass wool, a fluffy substance which is then incorporated into the company's Vacua insulation material. Read on to learn more about this fascinating process and see how this new material is being applied in several of Panasonic's new products.
In case you’re not familiar with old school CRT or cathode ray tube TVs and monitors (would it be dating ourselves to say that we remember them well?), they’re those clunky things we used to use before we had LCD, plasma and LED screens. Aside from people who want to keep them for nostalgic reasons, most of them have fallen into disuse. Luckily, PETEC, Panasonic’s electronics and appliances recycling wing, will happily accept these archaic screens as they have the technology to turn them into something they need for their Vacua insulation material – glass wool.
Yesterday, we visited the Kusatsu test plant where all of this magic happens and even got to touch the newly spun glass wool with our own hands. Our guide explained that the glass from the front (the lead-lined glass in the back is saved for another purpose) of each CRT is crushed into pebble sized particles, fed into a super-heated spinner and extruded out of tiny holes to create the glass wool fibers. Each strand is just 4μ (microns) thick, and to give you some perspective on that, a human hair is about 80μ thick. The resulting glass wool material is very lightweight and similar to cotton at the touch – perfect for packing into insulation materials.
So where does Panasonic apply all of their newly spun glass wool? Well, one application is for their refrigerators, which need to be heavily insulated in order to keep cold air in and hot air out. For that purpose, the glass wool is vacuum packed and sealed and the resulting material is dubbed Vacua. But Panasonic’s plans for Vacua don’t just end at refrigerators. They also hope to use a super version of the material as insulation for their eco-friendly smart homes.
While the Kusatsu plant is temporarily suspended as it is a test plant, it will resume its recycling activities in early February at which point, according to Panasonic, it will have the capability to process enough glass wool for 300,000 refrigerators per year.