GM surpasses landfill-free facilities commitment

General Motors (GM) announced that 52 percent of its worldwide facilities are now landfill-free, meaning all waste generated from normal operations is reused, recycled or converted to energy.

GM now has 76 landfill-free facilities, achieving a global operations commitment established in 2008 to convert 50 percent of its 145 plants to landfill-free status by the end of 2010.

GM employees focus first on decreasing the amount of waste generated, and then work to recycle the unavoidable waste. This year alone, GM has recycled or reused 2.5 million tons of waste materials at its plants worldwide – enough to fill 6.8 million extended-cab pickup trucks that, if parked end-to-end, would stretch around the world.

Through this annual recycling rate, it is estimated that GM has eliminated 8.4 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions from entering the atmosphere.

GM’s first facility to achieve landfill-free status was an engine plant in Flint, Michigan in 2005.

GM plants monitor, measure and report monthly on how they perform against waste-reduction goals. This data, which sets the stage for the landfill-free initiative, shows what materials are being generated, reused and recycled, and reveals areas for improvement. The resulting insight helped form a process that enables facilities to replicate best practices globally.

On average, more than 97 percent of waste materials from GM’s zero-landfill plants are recycled or reused, and less than 3 percent are converted to energy at waste-to-energy facilities, replacing fossil fuels.

Critical to the landfill-free designation is the ability for GM to turn material byproducts from routine manufacturing operations into new-vehicle components. Plant managers view this waste as potentially useful and marketable, and they work with their teams and suppliers to develop these closed-loop systems. Other operational waste comes full circle, as well, and is often recycled into plant supplies.

Examples include:

  • Cardboard shipping materials from the GM Marion Stamping and Fort Wayne Assembly plants are recycled into sound-absorber material in the Buick Lacrosse’s headliner.
  • Plastic caps and shipping aids from the Fort Wayne facility are converted into radiator shrouds for the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups built at the plant.
  • Tires from vehicle performance testing at Milford Proving Ground are shredded and used in the manufacturing of air and water baffles for a variety of GM vehicles.
  • Paint sludge from the Lansing Grand River plant is turned into plastic material and used for shipping containers durable enough to hold Chevrolet Volt and Cruze engines.

“In addition to the environmental benefits, recycling provides a strong business case,” said Mike Robinson, vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety Policy. “GM has generated more than $2.5 billion in revenue since 2007 through its various recycling activities.”

For example, metals from stamping and powertrain operations are valuable, especially considering the amount GM generates. What metal grindings and scraps GM doesn’t re-melt or reuse are sold to third parties like foundries.

GM was one of the first organizations – and to date is the only auto manufacturer – inducted into the United States Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) WasteWise Hall of Fame, which recognizes continued outstanding waste reduction. GM’s worldwide facilities combined recycle 90 percent of the waste they generate. The company has reduced total non-recycled waste 75 percent between 2000 and 2010 at manufacturing sites around the world. During the last 5 years, it decreased waste generated per vehicle by 28 percent.

GM has made great progress in reducing its environmental impact. In November, Chevrolet announced a multi-year commitment to invest $40 million in various clean energy projects throughout America with a goal to reduce another 8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions.