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General Motors Makes the Business Case for Recycling

| Tuesday October 11th, 2011 | 2 Comments

General Motors has become a great example of the business benefits for recycling. The company announced that last year, they recycled 92% of all waste generated in their manufacturing plants around the world. This has created a lucrative side business of scrap dealing which has helped keep them afloat during the recession.

Sustainable Business writes that according to latest estimates, the company makes about $1 billion a year just from selling scrap. Since they started in 2007, they have solidified their commitment towards waste management.

GM’s commitement to waste reduction is pretty impressive. Over half of its 76 plants produce zero waste and they reuse or recycle 97% of their byproducts. They aim to add 10 additional waste-free facilities this year and boost their waste-to-energy outputs. Cardboard is a big part of their waste stream and one of their suppliers came up with a patented technology that shears and separates cardboard boxes attached to wood pallets.

This system allows the company to manage each material with the smallest environmental impact and largest financial gains. The technology not only enabled the company to become landfill-free, it also helps it to earn $20,000 a month from cardboard recycling alone. Another plant in Michigan uses cornstarch-based packaging foam from Landaal Packaging Systems that blocks and braces products like sheet metal.

The Chevrolet Volt is GM’s flagship efficient vehicle and many of its parts comes from recycling waste generated from the BP Oil Spill. Last year GM announced that it plans to use 227 miles of oil-soaked booms from the spill cleanup to make parts for the Volt. By doing so, they saved 100,000 tonnes of plastic that would have otherwise been landfilled or burned. According to Earth911, “this material was used to create parts to deflect air around the vehicle’s radiations which allows the battery and on-board gasoline generator to run efficiently in extreme weather conditions.” This material was mixed with recycled tires and other reused plastics and polymers.

Apart from the Volt, GM uses an extensive lifecycle design for all its vehicles. They evaluate materials, manufacturing processes, energy consumption as well as end of life options. They also incorporate several recycled and bio-based components into their cars and trucks. Some of these include old bumpers, bottles, blue jeans, carpets and tires.

Earlier this year, GM announced that it aims to double the number of solar panels in its facilities by the end of 2015. GM Ventures, its venture capital arm has invested $7.5 million commercial solar developer Sunlogics to do that. If GM’s report is anything to go by, other companies should start taking recycling and waste management opportunities rather seriously as well.


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  • http://www.louisvillerecycler.com Haul it Louisville Guy

    This is great news. i hope that it continues. I am a little hesitant to believe all the statements as facts. Here is my problem: if you buy that car in Kentucky it is coal powered. The electricity generated in this state is by coal. Go GM. Please continue to do the right thing.

  • martin hogan

    This is of course, waste in GM plants, it does not take into account their subcontractors and feeder sites, which are separate companies. To be cynical, they would not be the first company to outsource something that did not meet their quality spec, giving them the opportunity to pass the blame to someone else.

    Good start but we need to see how it reflects along the entire supply chain