From trash to treasure

General Motors has partnered with The Empowerment Plan to turn over 2 million water bottles into engine covers and coats for homeless.

GM supplier Filtration Services Group involves seamstresses at the N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, Michigan, to make air filter panels. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)
Seamstresses Tameka Davis and Dorothea Guice sew the filter panels at the N.E.W. Life Center for GM supplier Filtration Services Group in Flint, Michigan. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)
Seamstresses Tameka Davis and Dorothea Guice sew the filter panels at the N.E.W. Life Center for GM supplier Filtration Services Group in Flint, Michigan. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)
Seamstress Jessica West sews the insulation into the coats at The Empowerment Plan in Detroit, Michigan, where GM is donating enough insulation to make 6,500 free coats that transform into sleeping bags. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)
Seamstress Jessica West sews the insulation into the coats at The Empowerment Plan in Detroit, Michigan, where GM is donating enough insulation to make 6,500 free coats that transform into sleeping bags. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)
Some of GM’s water bottles are recycled into insulation for Empowerment Plan coats that turn into sleeping bags for the homeless community. (Photo by Santa Fabio for General Motors)
GM is donating enough insulation for The Empowerment Plan’s seamstresses — formerly homeless women — to make 6,500 free coats that transform into sleeping bags. (Photo by Jeffrey Sauger for General Motors)
Some of GM’s water bottles are recycled into insulation for Empowerment Plan coats that turn into sleeping bags for the homeless community. (Photo by Santa Fabio for General Motors)
This fabric insulation, set on top of the engine as a demonstration, is made from water bottles collected from various GM facilities. The material sits beneath the nylon engine cover to further dampen engine noise. (Photo by Santa Fabio for General Motors)
GM Global Manager of Waste Reduction John Bradburn demonstrates the Chevrolet Equinox engine insulation made from used water bottles from several GM facilities. (Photo by Santa Fabio for General Motors)

General Motors is adding 2 million water bottles from Flint, Michigan residents into its Do Your Part water bottle recycling initiative. The company partnered with Schupan Recycling to collect the bottles. The plastic is washed, flaked and turned into fleece to make three products: Chevrolet Equinox V-6 engine covers, insulation for The Empowerment Plan coats for the homeless, and air filters for 10 GM plants.

The program engages a supply web of 11 organizations and reduces landfill waste. The resulting social impact contributes to the initiative’s progress and expansion.

GM supplier Filtration Services Group involved the N.E.W. Life Center in Flint to make air filter panels from the 9,000 square feet of fleece created since Do Your Part launched in April. After at-risk individuals participate in programs dedicated to employment preparation or life change, this nonprofit training center employs them to further develop their skills.

GM is donating enough insulation for The Empowerment Plan’s seamstresses — formerly homeless women — to make 6,500 coats that transform into sleeping bags that are given to those in need at no cost. The nonprofit trains their employees in lean manufacturing and teaches them soft and hard skills to propel them to bigger and better opportunities.

“We’re committed to proving to employers that formerly homeless people can be a skilled talent pool,” said Veronika Scott, founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan. “The end product is more than a coat: It empowers women to take control of their lives and provides the path to long-term, sustainable jobs.”

Scott says GM’s insulation provides the warmth needed for the homeless to withstand cold nights. Each coat contains 31 water bottles. The GM Foundation also supports The Empowerment Plan, providing it with $220,000 since 2013.

An estimated 1.2 million bottles from five GM facilities throughout metro Detroit and Flint supplemented the significant volumes coming from the Flint community. The company recently added its Romulus Powertrain plant to the program. While many employees bring reusable water bottles to work, all of GM’s facilities provide water bottle recycling. Employees at these Michigan sites know exactly what the bottles will become when they throw the bottles in the recycling bins.

“People want to do the right thing,” said John Bradburn, GM global waste reduction manager. “The Do Your Part recycling initiative is a way our employees and communities can connect their individual actions to broader social and environmental causes.”

Learn more about these water bottles’ transformation at doyourpart.gm.green.