Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

leonkaye headshot

Exclusive: Ford Cuts Global Waste by 100 Million Pounds and Counting

Words by Leon Kaye

Today the Ford Motor Company announced huge successes in cutting waste at its factories and has pledged to ramp up those efforts in the coming years. The announcement continues the good news that continues to roll out from Detroit: not only are auto companies increasing their sales figures with more fuel efficient and electric cars, but they are creating less waste and using more recycled materials as vehicles leave the assembly lines and end up in show rooms.

Since 2007, Ford has reduced waste sent around to landfills across the globe by 44 percent and in North America, 49 percent. That is the equivalent of 100 million pounds. The numbers on a per-vehicle basis are also impressive, by 47 percent in North America and over 39 percent around the world. The results are thanks to a variety of projects across Ford’s global operations.

One of Ford’s waste diversion processes involves turning paint solids into energy. At the company’s plant in Flat Rock, Michigan, wasted paint is captured through a water scrubbing process to capture and collect the excessive solids. Instead of the traditional method of disposal - landfilling - the paint solids are dewatered and then sent to a local power plant that uses them as a raw material source for energy. The waste-to-energy process will be replicated at other Ford plants.

At the Michigan Proving Grounds, a Ford testing facility in Romeo, Michigan, Ford installed a solar-powered trash compactor at the site. Previously waste was collected in cardboard boxes and then hauled away to local landfills. But now the compactor compresses the waste, which the company then sends to a nearby waste-to-energy plant. The trash compression not only eliminates landfill waste but also reduces the amount of trips, and therefore fuel, required to take trash away from the Romeo facility.

Other projects engage employees in various ways. A Chicago plant prevented 3000 pounds of waste sent to a landfill by starting a blue bag recycling program by which recyclables are collected throughout the factory. In Kentucky, another factory started a single stream collection program that cut landfill waste 39 percent by sending recyclables offsite for reuse and recycling. And in Ohio, an assembly plant worked with local schools by having students design posters, when were then used to label recycling bins. Factory personnel then voted for their favorite design by pitching recyclables in the matching bin, and that contest alone cut landfill waste by 16 percent.

The result for Ford is a reduction in overall waste from 37 to 23 pounds per vehicle. Meanwhile the company promises to slash water consumption by 2015 to 30 percent of 2009 levels. Plant-based materials are also causing excitement in Ford’s laboratories. With engineers and scientists researching how new sustainable materials like dandelions, sugar beets, corn, sugarcane, coconuts and shredded money can be used in automobile interiors, the Ford Motor of today is a much different company than the one with which your parents and grandparents were familiar.

Leon Kaye, based in California, is a sustainability consultant and the editor of GreenGoPost.com. He also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business and Inhabitat. You can follow him on Twitter.

Photo of Flat Rock assembly plant in Michigan courtesy Ford Motor Co.

Leon Kaye headshotLeon Kaye

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye

More stories from Leadership & Transparency