Companies, Entrepreneurs ROCk Detroit Through Waste Innovation

Unique collaboration brings together diverse groups advancing the circular waste economy
Apr 15, 2015 4:10 PM ET
Campaign: GM Waste Reduction


A growing number of Detroit organizations and entrepreneurs are coming together to exchange ideas, business cards and trash.

Launched last fall, the Reuse Opportunity Collaboratory Detroit (ROC Detroit) is comprised of a diverse group of companies, academic institutions, non-profits and government agencies with a strong common interest in creating environmental, beneficial societal and economic opportunities from Detroit’s underutilized materials. The collaboration is breathing new (second) life into old byproducts.

ROC Detroit held its second meeting last week, bringing together familiar faces from the fall gathering and brand new faces.

Jeff Hohlfeldt, business development and engineering manager at Northern Industrial Manufacturing, attended the first ROC Detroit event. Jeff was looking to find someone who could reuse two of the company’s waste streams – grinding sludge used to cut down metal parts and crushed corn cob used to dull the edges of the cut material. “The corn cob is a big waste stream for us – something like 60 or 70 thousand pounds a year,” he said. “I mean come on, it’s corn. We have to be able to find a reuse for that.”

One person Jeff approached at the event as a possible reuse partner was Pashon Murray, founder of composting company Detroit Dirt. Pashon collects food scraps from various Detroit businesses to create nutrient rich compost that feeds urban gardens across the city. GM and Pashon have partnered on a number of facility composting initiatives that have fed projects in Southwest Detroit. Currently, Pashon collects food prep scraps from our landfill-free global headquarters and then uses that compost to fuel our rooftop garden on an adjacent parking garage.

This waste innovation and collaboration is happening across the country, not just in Detroit. The U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development, which helped start ROC Detroit, has also helped launch and/or manage waste synergy projects in a number of cities across eight states. The nonprofit business association is rolling out a new online tool called the Materials Marketplace that enables participants to easily post available or desired waste materials, identify reuse opportunities, and exchange underutilized materials.

The Materials Marketplace is proving to be a “resourceful” tool to many groups in Texas. In fact, our call center in Austin recently joined in on the trash-to-treasure hunt taking place in the Lone Star State. We were able to supply more than 75 cubic yards of waste – everything from old TV and computers monitors to unused tables and chairs – to a local office product and supply company, which netted them an estimated resale value of $3,000 and saved the call center around $600 in recycling costs. Just as important, the transaction diverted this waste from ending up in landfill.

Another collaboration is underway in Spring Hill, Tennessee, home to the assembly plant where we build the Chevrolet Equinox. We initiated the first Suppliers’ Partnership for the Environment Southern Network forum there in 2013, a forum that brought together fellow automakers, their suppliers, recycling partners and government officials to discuss waste-reduction challenges, recycling opportunities and capabilities.

John Bradburn, GM’s global manager for waste reduction/resident MacGyver, said connecting these various partnerships is key to overcoming tough waste challenges.

“Groups such as Suppliers Partnership and the U.S. BCSD are now joining forces to best manage their materials systematically. That may not have happened years ago. There may have been a little anxiety with doing such a thing. But now they’re saying ‘you know what, we’re going to be stronger and accomplish more by working together, so let’s join forces here.’”

From Detroit to Tennessee to Austin and beyond, these collaborations are helping ensure industrial waste doesn’t go to waste.