Recycling with Purpose: Chevy Volt Battery Cases Become Duck Houses in Russia

John Bradburn, Recycling, GM, General Motors, Chevy Volt, scaly sided merganser, zero waste, waste diversion, duck houses, bat houses, Leon Kaye, David Tulauskas
The composite for these battery cases is difficult to recycle.

Zero waste has become the mantra at companies across the board, from vineyards to CPG giants such as Procter and Gamble. The waste diversion bug has hit General Motors (GM) as well, as the automaker continues to increase the number of its facilities that are landfill-free. The brain behind new ways to get rid of garbage is GM’s global manager of waste reduction, John Bradburn, often called the “MacGyver of waste” by his colleagues at the company’s campus in Warren, Michigan.

Among the many ways in which Bradburn’s team diverts garbage from permanent interment in dumps has a human, as well as an ornithological, side to it. GM’s continued success with its Chevy Volt means more batteries moving through the company’s supply chain as they are hauled from suppliers’ warehouses to their final installation within a new Volt. Unfortunately, the composite that does a fine job protecting the cases during their transport is difficult to recycle. But several years ago, Bradburn found a way to repurpose these cases, and he made many friends with conservation groups in the process.

John Bradburn, Recycling, GM, General Motors, Chevy Volt, scaly sided merganser, zero waste, waste diversion, duck houses, bat houses, Leon Kaye, David Tulauskas
3p correspondent Leon Kaye working with David Tulauskas to build duck houses for a rare Russian duck species.

These battery cases, which have an A-frame shape to them, can easily be converted into bird and bat houses. With the addition of some scrap wood, hinges and a few screws, hundreds of these cases have been built and distributed across GM’s facilities, the United States and even overseas. These houses have become a lynchpin within GM’s wildlife habitats program as they have helped to provide nesting spaces for bats, wood ducks, owls and bluebirds.

Chevrolet employees have worked with NASCAR and volunteer organizations to install these boxes around the vicinity of a racetrack in South Carolina. Now, these boxes are finding their way across the Pacific Ocean in eastern Russia.

It turns out the scaly-sided merganser, a species of duck that live along the border area between China and Russia, have taken quite kindly to these boxes. As is the case with most birds, spring is a critical time for this breed of ducks as they look for safe place to lay their eggs. With only about 2,500 known to exist in the wild, providing a secure home for these ducks is crucial to their survival.

John Bradburn, Recycling, GM, General Motors, Chevy Volt, scaly sided merganser, zero waste, waste diversion, duck houses, bat houses, Leon Kaye, David Tulauskas
This duck house is ready to be shipped overseas.

The design of these bird houses allows a local NGO to monitor the houses without the need for workers to approach them too closely, which would not only spook the birds, but also leave a scent trail for their natural predators.

When designed for bats, they achieve another purpose: They eliminate the need for insecticide as bats do an effective enough job ridding an area of bugs and other pests.

And from Boy Scouts to student groups, they offer GM an engaging way to work with local volunteering organizations. Plus they are easy to build: With the assistance of David Tulauskas, GM’s director of sustainability, we could assemble one in a few minutes. The result is a unique way for the automaker to reach out to the community and develop a role in local and international wildlife preservation.

Image credits: Leon Kaye

Based in California, Leon Kaye has also been featured in The Guardian, Clean Technica, Sustainable Brands, Earth911, Inhabitat, Architect Magazine and Wired.com. He shares his thoughts on his own site, GreenGoPost.com.

Disclosure: GM covered the cost of Leon Kaye’s attendance at NAIAS.

Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010. He has lived across the U.S., as well as in South Korea, Abu Dhabi and Uruguay. Some of Leon's work can also be found in The Guardian, Sustainable Brands and CleanTechnica. You can follow him on Twitter (@LeonKaye) and Instagram (GreenGoPost).

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