Waste Not
GM Advancing Global Zero-Waste Goal by Making Shoes, Washing Rags

Making shoe soles and washing solvent-drenched rags instead of discarding disposables are two ways General Motors is approaching its aspirational goal of becoming a zero-waste manufacturer.

With the addition of six landfill-free sites in Mexico and England, the company’s industry-leading landfill-free count totals 131 facilities.

Luton Assembly and Ellesmere Port Assembly achieved landfill-free status, making all 18 Opel/Vauxhall manufacturing plants in Europe landfill-free, which means daily waste is recycled, reused or converted to energy.

The addition of two engine plants, a warehouse, and technical center at GM’s Toluca, Mexico complex mean all of GM de Mexico assembly, engine and transmission plants plus various non-manufacturing operations such as the company’s global headquarters in Detroit — a total of 16 facilities — send no waste to landfills.

“Our global progress in waste reduction is possible because of employee participation, creative ideas, and a strong supplier network,” said Jim DeLuca, GM’s EVP of Global Manufacturing. “Our teams understand the positive impact of this initiative and they drive it in their facilities every day.”

Getting all employees in a plant to sort their waste in the appropriate bins can be a challenge. These new landfill-free sites used a variety of tools to educate and inspire, from recycling courses to training videos that help employees understand the environmental benefits and business case. The teams conduct audits to identify improvement opportunities, and recognize employees who drive progress. Some plants designate a “green champion” in each part of the plant to drive participation.

Since the first GM plant achieved landfill-free status 10 years ago, the company has been using evolving and cost-effective technology to chip away at tough waste streams. Hiring a waste management company specializing in challenging byproducts versus general waste was key to Ellesmere Port Assembly’s success. The partnership gave the team a better understanding of options for material such as paint residue and sealants used in the car assembly process.

Ellesmere Port is also trialing a project to wash rags used to wipe up solvent instead of using disposable rags, potentially cutting rag waste to zero.

Other new landfill-free facilities include the Uzbekistan Engine plant; a Chevrolet sales office in India; an IT Innovation center building (Georgia); a Howell spare parts operation (Michigan); and customer care and aftersales facilities in Cincinnati, Willow Run (Michigan), Rancho Cucamonga (California), Woodstock (Ontario, Canada) and Langley (Vancouver, Canada).

GM teams around the world are working toward achieving 150 landfill-free sites globally by 2020. The company outlines its best practices in its blueprint in "The Business Case for Zero Waste.” Among other key takeaways from the report: GM has generated roughly $1 billion annually, on average, through various byproduct reuse and recycling initiatives.

Another global player that has proven the business case for such measures is Procter & Gamble, which saved roughly $1.6 billion in five years through the thoughtful use of previously wasted byproducts throughout its manufacturing operations.

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