Driving a Global Movement to Zero Waste

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This guest blog post is authored by John Bradburn, GM global manager of waste reduction. It is the inaugural blog post in the National Association of Manufacturers’ (NAM) Manufacturing a Sustainable Future blog series. 

It’s an exciting time to be working in the automotive industry. Our chairman and CEO, Mary Barra, believes the industry will change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50. GM is restructuring its portfolio to maximize vehicle efficiencies, electrifying vehicles and providing connectivity solutions that promote sustainability. All of this transformation includes our operations and how we make our products. We are committed to responsible manufacturing that conserves our industry’s vital resources.

General Motors now counts 131 landfill-free operations around the world that recycle, reuse or convert to energy all waste from daily operations.

General Motors now counts 131 landfill-free operations around the world that recycle, reuse or convert to energy all waste from daily operations.

In 2015, we recycled more than 2 million tons of waste. That’s the equivalent of 38 million garbage bags. This ultimately benefits our customers because the money we generate from recyclingup to $1 billion in recent yearsis reinvested into technologies for vehicles people want and can afford.

Thanks to supplier partnerships, creative employees and committed leadership, we have 131 landfill-free facilities, and we aspire to achieve zero-waste manufacturing at all of our global plants.

Data remains the backbone of these efforts. We use a single resource management system allowing us to best manage our waste with the byproducts yielding valuable commodities. Data tracking shows how all generated materials are disposed, using the categories of reuse, recycle, compost and waste-to-energy. Doing so reveals opportunities to continually improve and climb the waste-reduction hierarchy. Designing out waste is the ultimate goal, and we’ve committed to a 40 percent reduction in total waste by 2020, from a base year of 2010.

General Motors repurposed scrap Chevrolet Volt battery covers into nesting boxes to provide refuge for endangered scaly-sided mergansers in China. GM partnered with World Wildlife Fund, Wetlands International and the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development to install 10 boxes inside the Changbai Mountain National Nature Reserve in Jilin province. (Photo by Piao Longguo)

General Motors repurposed scrap Chevrolet Volt battery covers into nesting boxes to provide refuge for endangered scaly-sided mergansers in China. (Photo by Piao Longguo)

We have more to do, but key to our progress is thinking of waste as just a resource out of place. Here are a few examples:

 

  • Recycling cardboard packaging into Buick Verano headliners to keep the cabin quiet
  • Recycling test tires into the manufacturing of air baffles for a variety of GM vehicles
  • Recycling water bottles from some GM facilities to produce V6 engine covers for the Chevrolet Equinox and insulation for Empowerment Plan coats for the homeless
  • Reusing 1,600 shipping crates as raised garden beds in Detroit
  • Converting 800 scrap Chevrolet Volt battery cases into wildlife nesting boxes, including one for an endangered duck

Reuse networks are an enabler and help to advance a more circular economy. The Reuse Opportunity Collaboratory Detroit brings together institutions and businesses to develop zero-waste partnerships in which one organization’s waste becomes another’s raw material. In the U.S. Materials Marketplace, companies can purchase used materials through an online database.

Collaboration and innovation will fuel the drive to zero waste. For more information, check out our Business Case for Zero Waste blueprint.

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