GM Shares Keys to Landfill-Free in 2011

Jan 12, 2012 9:30 AM ET
Campaign: GM Waste Reduction

GM Shares Keys to Landfill-Free in 2011

In 2011, General Motors added eight manufacturing sites and nine non-manufacturing facilities to its global landfill-free list, bringing its total count to 81 plants and 16 non-manufacturing facilities that reuse, recycle or convert to energy all waste created in its daily operations.

“Given the scale of our global landfill-free program, we have many best practices to share,” said John Bradburn, manager of GM’s waste-reduction efforts. “We have a proven process and a track record for creative recycling and reuse.”

GM facilities employed waste-reduction tactics such as cutting and reworking pallets to form wood beams for the homebuilding industry, breaking down wastewater using cafeteria scraps as a food source for environmentally friendly bacteria versus chemicals, and reusing absorbent pads for cleaning oil and water from the plant floor up to three times, to name a few.

GM’s Customer Care & Aftersales headquarters in Grand Blanc, Mich., which was validated landfill free in December, features many efficient waste-reduction processes. Thegrounds—a designated “Wildlife at Work” wildlife habitat certified by the Wildlife Habitat Council—also feature scrap Chevrolet Volt battery covers that GM engineers converted into wood duck nesting boxes.

“This year, we’ve converted plants like Bay City Powertrain and Pontiac Metal Center that have been around for 75 years or more,” said Bradburn. “All it takes is a little perseverance and dedication to find ways to reduce waste and increase efficiency within the current infrastructure.” 

For example, manufacturing plants can generate loose filter media—a plastic-like byproduct of machining operations that challenges the industry. At Bay City Powertrain, a supplier now shakes it and removes the metal for recycling. The rest is then converted to energy.  Although newer plants often feature equipment that does this processing, Bay City achieved 100 percent efficiency using traditional tactics.

According to Bradburn, there are several landfill-free lessons to be gleaned from 2011.

Tie revenue to byproducts. Tying revenue to various waste streams tends to generate more interest and helps GM approach waste reduction from a sustainable financial perspective. For example, a holistic byproducts management system that combines environmental and financial benefits of plant waste enabled Pontiac Metal Center in Michigan to generate $7.5M in recycling revenue in 2011 alone.

Plan for the future to sustain landfill-free status. Among other efficiency improvements, GM took into account potential future manufacturing scenarios to achieve its landfill-free designations. An example is proactively planning for waste streams like sludge even if a facility may not generate it today.

Thrive on data and share best practices. This year’s new landfill-free sites are in Argentina, India, Italy, France, Germany and the United States. Reporting allows GM to share lessons learned globally, and it does this by:

  • Hosting quarterly and as-needed web-based global conference calls specific to waste reduction efforts where experts from each region participate and spread out lessons learned to their teams. 

  • Hosting as-needed commodity-specific calls, as well as regular resource management calls with suppliers. 

  • Sharing best practice documents on specific processes and technologies.

Continuously improve.  On average, 97 percent of the waste generated from everyday operations at GM’s landfill-free manufacturing plants is recycled or reused, and the remaining 3 percent is converted to energy. Even at these sites, engineers strive to manage waste in accordance with the globally accepted hierarchy of elimination, reuse, recycling and energy recovery. These activities will continually increase those landfill-free facilities’ efficiencies and environmental performance. Additionally, GM has steadily built on its 2010 achievement of a global operations commitment  to make half of its plants landfill-free, and will continue converting plants throughout the New Year and beyond.

Here’s the full list of manufacturing facilities designated landfill-free in 2011:
• Talegaon Powertrain and Stamping plants in India
• Advanced Manufacturing Technologies New Hudson Stamping plant in Michigan
• Rosario Assembly and Stamping plants in Argentina
• Fort Wayne Assembly in Indiana
• Pontiac Metal Center in Michigan
• Bay City Powertrain plant in Michigan

Non-manufacturing facilities designated landfill-free in 2011:
• Customer Care and Aftersales Pontiac in Michigan
• Customer Care and Aftersales Headquarters in Michigan
• Customer Care and Aftersales Davison in Michigan
• Customer Care and Aftersales Willow Run in Michigan
• Customer Care and Aftersales Ypsilanti in Michigan
• Dudenhofen Proving Ground in Germany 
• Torino Engineering Research and Development Center in Italy
• Gonesse Warehouse in France
• Russelsheim International Technical Development Center in Germany