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Waste Not
GM Global Headquarters Achieves Zero Waste

General Motors announced this week that its company headquarters in Detroit produces 5 million pounds of trash annually — the equivalent of 200,000 full garbage bags — which GM now diverts from the landfill. The automaker says the complex now recycles 49 percent of its total waste and converts the rest, including food scraps and used containers, to renewable energy that powers other nearby businesses.

While GM already has more than 100 landfill-free sites, the Renaissance Center is the most complex, and is the only facility open to the public. Covering 5.5 million square feet, the building houses the Western Hemisphere's tallest all-hotel skyscraper, 11 other businesses, 20 restaurants and 27 retailers. It accommodates 12,000 office workers and 3,000 visitors daily.


The waste-reduction process began with a dumpster dive, searching through trash to identify reuse and recycling opportunities, GM says. Combining that insight with the building's historical waste data, the company teamed with all the business tenants, environmental staffs and CBRE to engage people in increasing paper, plastic, and battery recycling. Educating how and where to recycle, as well as making it convenient to do so, help to change behavior.

GM says it also worked closely with innovative recycling organization Waste Management to coordinate its needs with regional partners to meet the goal. Royal Oak Recycling bales and ships paper to mills across the country where it is turned into items like cereal boxes and tissue paper. A Detroit nonprofit receives all returnable bottles and cans as a donation for youth outreach programs. Waste Management's Detroit Recycling Center recycles cardboard and plastic, and Veolia Environmental Services ensures batteries are properly recycled.

"This is a significant achievement considering all the waste from workers, shoppers, diners and hotel guests — ranging from half-eaten hamburgers to used mattresses — that will not end up in a landfill," said Mike Robinson, GM's VP of Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs. "By working together, we reduce our footprint while helping build a greener economy and a greener Detroit."

GM and Detroit Renewable Energy recently announced a renewable energy project to turn solid municipal waste from the city of Detroit into process steam that will be used to heat and cool portions of GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck assembly plant. When the project is operational, 58 percent of the plant’s energy needs will come from renewable energy, making Detroit-Hamtramck the top GM facility in the world by percentage of renewable energy used.


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