GM is now in the process of converting all of its plants, both manufacturing and non-manufacturing, to zero waste facilities.
General Motors has been working on ways to effectively divert landfill waste from its manufacturing plants for the past 5 years. Now the company has announced that its efforts to eliminate landfill shipments is spreading to its non-manufacturing sites as well. Ten of the company’s non-manufacturing plants now reuse, recycle or convert to energy all normal operational waste.
According to John Bradburn, General Motors’ manager of waste reduction efforts, aggressive landfill diversion is not an option, but a necessity. “It is an imperative for business survival,” he says. “If a company is not thinking this way, they are not going to survive far into the future.”
Converting non-manufacturing facilities presented a different challenge from the conversion of traditional manufacturing facilities. Differing waste streams meant implementing different programs to recapture and reuse materials. It meant rethinking packaging such as cardboard – a significant––and voluminous–– waste stream. GM engineers have worked to create more recyclable shipping and packaging designs that are intended for easy disassembly.
For instance, a landfill-free Customer Care and Aftersales facility in Burton, Michigan, is using an environmentally friendly, bio-based packaging foam that can block and brace items like sheet metal for shipping. The foam is made from extruded cornstarch, which is both biodegradable and compostable.
At the same facility, another supplier helped GM engineers solve a waste challenge with a patented technology that shears and separates cardboard boxes attached to wood pallets. The separation is necessary to recycle each material effectively, and with the least environmental impact. The technology not only enabled the plant to earn landfill-free status this year, but the facility now generates $20,000 a month from recycling its cardboard
“Our non-manufacturing facilities see the importance of being waste-reduction leaders, and they know their customers value it as well,” said Bradburn. “Being landfill-free has become a point of pride for our people and we hope even more facilities achieve the goal this year.
Since 2007, the Detroit car giant has instituted waste reduction initiatives that have cut landfill amounts by as much as 97% at its manufacturing sites. The diverted waste is either recycled or reused to make new GM car parts, or incinerated and used to generate energy.
Last year, GM converted 20 more of its manufacturing plants into zero waste facilities, bringing the company’s total number of landfill-free manufacturing sites to 76.
Overall, GM plants have recycled or reused 2.5 million tons of waste including scrap metal, wood, cardboard, machining materials and batteries. And, the company has added another $2.5 billion from selling waste for recycling over that same period. The company has a goal of adding 10 more landfill free facilities by the end of 2011. Last year GM surpassed it’s global operations commitment to make half of its 145 plants landfill-free.
What began by using paint sludge to make engine-shipping containers and turning cardboard into car roof interiors has morphed into an aggressive resource management strategy that General Motors now uses to recycle or reuse the majority of the waste its plants churn out. Its an impressive achievement, and one that speaks well of the company’s commitment to long-term sustainability.