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Upcycling Bizen Ware While Significantly Reducing Waste

Establishing a regional recycling-based business by transforming waste from traditional pottery into industrial products

the Continue. Co., Ltd.
(Okayama Prefecture)

Upcycling Bizen Ware While Significantly Reducing Waste


Bizen ware, which has a history of over 800 years, is characterized by the use of hiyose clay from Bizen City, Okayama Prefecture, Japan, and a firing method that does not use glaze. Bizen ware has been passed down as a traditional Japanese craft and has been used for tableware and other items, but it faces the problem of lack of clay as a raw material. On the other hand, defective pieces that inevitably occur during the Bizen ware firing process are sometimes discarded and sent to landfill. The actual volume sent to landfill is around 15 tons per year.

Seeing this, Saori MAKI, director of Mitsuishi Hi-Ceram Co., Ltd. (Mitsuishi Hi-Ceram), a Japanese company that manufactures and sells refractory bricks, started a project to recycle discarded Bizen ware using recycling technology for firebricks. Via the Continue. Co., Ltd. (Continue), a company affiliated with Mitsuishi Hi-Ceram and established for the project, the RI-CO brand was launched, with the brand getting off the ground and turning a profit in just three years. Currently, Continue has established a recycling system for Bizen ware by collecting all of the discarded Bizen ware that can be picked up locally.

Successful outcomes

  • The annual amount of Bizen ware waste is around 15 tons based on Continue's collection results, and this is utilized in the company’s production of recycled (upcycled) Bizen ware products for its RI-CO brand, reducing the waste headed for landfill to near zero.
  • The recycled material usage rate for RI-CO products is 37% for mugs and over 70% for press plates and exterior wall materials. Technically, it is possible to increase this volume to a maximum of 80%, but the policy is to stop at a ratio that keeps economic growth and environmental preservation compatible.
  • The first round of funding was through crowdfunding, with 3,181,860 yen raised from a base of 784 supporters.
  • The Bizen Ware Recycling Project alone has sales of more than 13 million yen per year, allowing it to become a profitable entity.
  • The factory produces 100–200 mugs a day and operates for two-thirds of the month. The crushing process is performed once or twice a year.
  • Taking advantage of the Bizen Ware Recycling Project, they are working on new businesses such as steel mill waste recycling, water treatment, and the conversion of organic waste into energy and fertilizer.

Innovation in traditional crafts made possible through other industries

Initially, Bizen ware artists unanimously claimed that recycling Bizen ware was technically and economically impossible. However, Ms. Maki thought it was actually possible to create recycled materials from Bizen ware waste, as Mitsuishi Hi-Ceram had a technique for crushing stones that was not available in Bizen ware’s manufacturing technology, as well as the ability to chemically analyze components and viscosity. In 2021, the work succeeded in making mugs by “upcycling” waste materials from Bizen ware. Crowdfunding was used to help launch the business.

The crowdfunding was a huge success. The product received a good response, including inquiries from buyers and other industries, with many new sales channels being established. Ms. Maki comments: “We sell tableware to hotels, create limited-edition tea bowls in partnership with gift shops, and have even received inquiries from people in charge of interior designs for automobile manufacturers.”

She continues: “Bizen ware, which uses virgin clay, tends to easily warp, with each piece being unique to itself. That is the beauty of traditional crafts, but they are not suitable for industrial products. On the other hand, recycled materials are less susceptible to this warping and can be made into more-standard items using molds, so we were able to further meet market needs different from those for traditional Bizen ware.”

The RI-CO brand’s purpose is to let people know that Bizen ware can be upcycled, so the material is deliberately made with a coarse look to give it a grainy feel so that it does not look new. Products such as rock glasses with sharp edges are also part of RI-CO’s unique designs. At the same time, the company knows that they must not create a brand that diminishes the quality of Bizen ware, so they value the “no glaze” policy that has been passed down in this craft.

Ms. Maki contemplates: “I myself had a past where I was kind of out of place with society. I felt a sense of discomfort in a society that pretended that there was no need to create things that would deviate from the average, and instead, that society only showed what was above the passing grade. Even in the world of manufacturing, we have become an economy where things that are inconvenient are wrapped up so that they cannot be seen. However, I believe that society in the future will not be able to function unless we focus on things that are deemed to have no value as well.”

RI-CO’s recycled Bizen series will be produced at double the current level. The next goal is to take on the challenge of recycling other waste materials generated within the region.


the Continue. Co., Ltd.

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