Offcut Factory
Reframing material waste for the local manufacturing industry
Project currently in development, with support by DesignSingapore Council under the Good Design Research programme. Find out more through our website here.

Material waste is a prevalent issue in the manufacturing industry.

In Singapore, about 7.23 million tonnes of solid waste was generated in 2019. Amongst which, the recycling rates for stone and ceramic was only at 7%. Most material offcuts that are produced during manufacturing are inevitably left abandoned as industrial waste.

The project sought to understand the current processes of material waste management in the manufacturing sector, as well as the scale of the problem that material waste poses to these individual companies.

Finding out more about the problem

In conversations with the many factories that we visited, the staff spoke about facing the problem of producing a large amount of “material leftovers” or “offcuts” during the manufacturing process, which are often discarded and disposed of through various means.

However, there is also a strong, shared sentiment from them not to see these material offcuts being “wasted”, with a wish to see them being better utilized.

“It’s such a waste to throw, they are all still beautiful.”

Mr K, design consultant at a natural stone supplier

“Sometimes we don’t know what to do with all these (wood offcuts). We just put them into the container.”

Mdm A, staff at a woodworking factory

Key findings

1. High disposal costs

We have learnt that factory owners often have to pay an exorbitant fee to dispose of their material waste.

For example, an owner of a marble factory revealed to us that he had to spend close to five figures to dispose of four skips of discarded marble material and offcuts.

One might think that the cost alone would deter him from doing so, but more often than not, it is the only way for factory owners to manage the accumulated offcuts in their premises. They are aware that it is an extremely wasteful practice but see no alternative solution.

2. Unused, but not unwanted

Secondly, due to the sheer volume of materials that they bring in and work with, sometimes they will even have to dispose of still-usable materials.

We saw a parallel to this with the global food waste problem, where perfectly-edible food are thrown away on a daily basis due to the issue of over-ordering and excess inventory.

3. Definition of offcut is subjective

In addition, what constitutes an “offcut” or “waste” can be subjective. To us, an A4-sized piece of marble slab might not be viewed as an offcut, but for a company that deals primarily with large installation projects for example, if it is too small for use in their day-to-day work, it would be considered as waste and discarded.

Design opportunity

We realised that many of these still-usable offcuts have a beauty of their own and need not be discarded.

In addition, many of these factories are small, family-run businesses, with little visibility in the modern market. Yet, they have long-established histories and contributions in the local manufacturing industry, with a wealth of domain knowledge and expertise built up over the years.

We thought — is there an opportunity to create new value for these material offcuts by leveraging on the existing fabrication processes of the factories?

Celebration of the local manufacturing industry — the unsung heroes of Singapore
What if we can help factories develop an in-house brand celebrating their unique expertise?

We envision a partnership with craftsmen and technicians from local factories to co-design a collection of functional lifestyle objects that are made from the materials sourced.

By tapping on their particular manufacturing expertise and know-how, we can create pieces unique to each factory’s DNA.

Quality source materials for all
What if everybody can have access to quality material sources?

We believe that everyone should have open access to quality materials. By working with factories to post-process discarded offcuts into usable materials, the goal is to launch a service platform where people can easily purchase them at a democratic pricing.

For businesses, this presents an opportunity of new revenue streams through a purposeful transformation of material waste.


Esli Ee

Lianhe Zaobao
Design Asia Exhibition and Congress
DesignSingapore Council
The Straits Times
DesignSingapore Council
Home and Decor

Design Superposition, National Design Centre
Good Design Research: Offcut Factory, National Design Centre

Made with love by me, circa 2022. If you are interested in my work, or want to chat about design or opportunities, email me.