General Motors Gets Kudos for Landfill-free Facilities

We want to take a moment to give a car maker a pat on the back.

We’ve spent more that a little time on General Motors case for a lack of standardization with its keyless start cars as well as inaccurate information owner’s manuals. Now the company gets a little back.

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Landfill-free facilitiesOn February 28, GM noted in a press release that it had added 27 facilities to its list of 142 facilities, both manufacturing and non manufacturing, that are 100% landfill free. To be clear, these facilities send absolutely nothing to landfills, period.

Now we don’t generally expend a lot of energy on environmental issues, but we were struck by the magnitude of this achievement. This is nearly impossible for individuals to get anywhere close to this. Everything we use is packaged and a whole lot of that packaging is simply not recyclable. The rest goes to landfill.

So how did they manage it? Certainly, there is a huge internal effort, including employees, dedicating to the task. For instance, they have a vice president of Sustainable Workplaces. Dane Parker says that GM aspires “to be a zero-waste company.” They employ a Waste Reduction manager. That person, John Bradburn, summed it up: “To us,” he said, “waste is simply a resource out of place.” Does this ever make sense.

So, GM repurposes old concrete in new walkways. They clean oil-soaked cloths used in painting instead of tossing them. They use bags that held parts delivered to plants to line waste cans instead of putting them in the waste cans. In one plant, that’s nearly 8,000 plastic bags a year NOT sent to a landfill. Etc.

Seventy nine of the sites are manufacturing operations. On average they reuse, recycle or compost approximately 96% of their waste from daily operations and convert 4% to energy.

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To be sure, this takes more than a fair share of creativity. For instance, one facility donates empty battery containers for use as nesting boxes for wood ducks.

Recycled bottlesRecycling efforts include turning used water bottles for air filtration elements, sound proofing for vehicles, or insulation, like the piece John Bradburn is holding. Tires are ground up to be used to make air baffles for GM cars and trucks. Cardboard and packing materials are baled at manufacturing
sites for recycling.

Aluminum chipsMetal chips are collected at GM’s Flint Engine plant and shipped to a supplier that recycles the chips into new materials.

Now clearly a company the size of GM has resources individuals will never have, but the effort simply has to be applauded. What they spend comes back as savings on materials that otherwise would need to be sourced, purchased and delivered. In fact, the company generated $2.5 billion in revenue between 2007 and
2010 through various recycling activities.

It achieved its first landfill-free site at our Flint Engine operations in 2005. Since it started its waste reduction program, it has reduced the program’s costs by 92% and total waste by 62%.

So, bravo General Motors, and keep up the good work.

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