Innovation: Environment

Waste Reduction

We reuse and recycle more waste from our manufacturing facilities than any other automaker.

Summary

  • We have 111 landfill-free facilities — more than any other automaker.
  • We recycle or reuse 84% of our worldwide manufacturing waste.
  • We recycled 2.2 million tons of waste in 2013.
  • Our vehicles are on average 85% recyclable by weight at the end of their useful life.

We are conscious about the impact our operations have on the environment. That is why we have an aggressive goal in place: to be the leading automaker in waste-reduction efforts. We recycle more waste from our worldwide facilities than any other automaker, and no other automaker has as many facilities contributing zero waste to landfill.

Whether it’s one of our 83 landfill-free manufacturing facilities, 28 landfill-free non-manufacturing facilities (including our global headquarters, the GM Renaissance Center in Detroit) or one of the many that are nearly there, every site is serious about finding ways to reduce and reuse waste. In doing so, we reduce our impact while encouraging innovative ideas that strengthen our revenue stream.

Reducing

Our employees consistently challenge conventional manufacturing operations, thinking of ways to create efficiencies, reduce scrap and design products with the environment in mind. This led to cutting total waste from global operations by 43% and reducing non-recycled waste by 73% from 2000 through 2010. From 2010 to 2013, we reduced total waste generated per vehicle by another 10% at our global manufacturing facilities.

Reusing

We like to think of waste as a resource out of place. Our employees and suppliers work together to keep materials in their use phase, and one of our favorite tactics is turning byproducts from routine manufacturing operations into components for new vehicles.

Here are some examples:

  • Cardboard shipping materials from various GM plants are recycled into a superior sound-dampening material into 25% of the headliner in the Buick Lacrosse and Verano to help keep the cabin quiet.
  • Plastic caps and shipping aids from the Fort Wayne facility are mixed with other materials to make 25% of the radiator shrouds for the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups built at the plant.
  • Test tires from our Milford, Mich. Proving Ground, thanks to their elasticity and durability, are shredded and used in manufacturing of air and water baffles for a variety of GM vehicles. Baffles contain nearly 100% recycled materials.

Other operational waste also comes full circle and is often reused as plant supplies. For example, paint sludge from our Lansing Grand River plant has been turned into plastic material and used as shipping containers durable enough to hold Chevrolet Volt and Cruze engine components.

Recycling

Envision a bunch of extended-cab pickups, stretching end-to-end around the world. That’s how many trucks it would take to hold the 2.2 million tons of waste we reused or recycled in 2013. In fact, all of our worldwide manufacturing facilities combined – including landfill-free plants and all others – recycle or reuse 84% of the waste they generate.

Recycling makes good business sense. We generate about $1billion in recycling and reuse revenue annually. We view it from a systems perspective so that we not only protect the environment, but eliminate cost and increase efficiency.

One recycling project we’re particularly proud of is working with our suppliers to convert 227 miles of booms from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and turn them into components for air deflectors in the Chevrolet Volt. Our efforts kept approximately 212,500 pounds of oil spill waste from entering our nation’s landfills. The air deflectors are made with 25% plastic caps from our plants, 25% oil boom material, 25% post-consumer plastic bottles and 25% scrap test tires.

We also use materials like soy and kenaf fibers (in small percentages) and balsa wood (larger percentages) in a variety of vehicle components. Each recycled, reused or renewable material we use meets or exceeds our quality and durability requirements.

We thrive on collaborating with suppliers to come up with recyclable products and processes that also perform well within a holistic business case. This enables us to implement them on a broader scale and make even more impact.  Our participation in the Suppliers Partnership for the Environment – a forum we helped found where suppliers share environmental best practices and ideas – helps us to develop relationships and build our network of eco-conscious parts manufacturers.

Landfill-Free Facilities

We have 111 facilities that send no waste to landfills from their daily operations. No other automaker has as many facilities contributing zero waste to landfill.

So when you take a single bag of trash to the curb, you’re putting more  into a landfill than these facilities combined.

Within our landfill-free roster, we have 83 manufacturing sites that, on average, recycle or reuse 97% of their waste and convert 3% to energy in lieu of fossil fuels. Our efforts have spread to non-manufacturing sites; we now have 28 non-manufacturing landfill-free facilities. Our global headquarters, the GM Renaissance Center, is now landfill-free. This public building drawing about 15,000 workers and visitors daily to its shops, hotel and restaurants sits on 14 acres and even has its own ZIP code. 

Our robust reporting system, which enables our plants to set and meet waste goals, allows us to easily share lessons learned globally so we can help other operations achieve goals even if their local recycling infrastructure isn’t developed.

Our next goal? To increase our landfill-free count to 125 sites globally by 2020.

For tips to reduce waste and create efficiencies within your own organization, download our blueprint, "The Business Case for Zero Waste".

Vehicle Recyclability

On average, our vehicles are approximately 85% recyclable by weight.  We work with the vehicle dismantling industry to help ensure the vast majority of vehicle material is salvaged and can be recycled or reused in new vehicles or other consumer products at the end of the vehicle’s life.

      

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