Last year, General Motors recycled 92% of all the waste generated in its manufacturing plants around the world and in doing so, has created a lucrative scrap recycling business.
Waste reduction and reuse efforts are now so prevalent at GM that the company no longer thinks of the material as "waste," says John Bradburn, manager of waste reduction.
The company makes about $1 billion a year from selling scrap byproducts, a new business that held its ground even during bankruptcy reorganization.
Over half its plants (76) produce zero waste, reusing or recycling 97% of its byproducts; the rest is used in waste-to-energy plants. GM's goal is to add 10 more "landfill-free" facilities this year.
10 of GM's non-manufacturing sites are also zero waste. Cardboard, for example, is a big part of their waste stream. One of its "landfill-free" suppliers came up with a patented technology that shears and separates cardboard boxes attached to wood pallets. The separation is necessary to manage each material with the least environmental impact and gain significant financial value. The technology not only enabled the GM facility to earn landfill-free status this year, but it also earns $20,000 a month from recycling its cardboard.
Another Michigan plant is using bio-based packaging foam (extruded cornstarch) from supplier Landaal Packaging Systems that blocks and braces products like sheet metal.
In May, we reported that GM recycled 227 miles of oil-soaked booms from the BP oil spill to make car parts for its flagship plug-in hybrid vehicle, the Chevrolet Volt.
GM now uses lifecycled design for all its vehicles, evaluating materials, the manufacturing processes used to build them, their energy consumption on the road and ease of recycling at the end of their useful life.
Recycled and bio-based materials are making their way into cars and trucks, including old vehicle bumpers, pop bottles, blue jeans and nylon carpet, and used tires. Some of those materials are starting to come from their own manufacturing plants.
In July, GM announced it would double solar installations at manufacturing plants worldwide by the end of 2015. Its venture capital arm, General Motors Ventures, invested $7.5 million commercial solar developer Sunlogics to do that.
Its venture arm also put $6 million into Proterra - a Colorado-based electric bus company - as part of an investment group led by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers (KPCB).