Help Build a More Circular Economy
With 152 zero-waste-to-landfill sites around the world, our track record for meaningful waste reduction is well established. Efforts in this area not only reduce our own environmental impacts, but increasingly help contribute to a circular economy, one in which materials that would have become waste in the past are put back to work serving another purpose.
Recycling Water Bottles
One of our most innovative circular-economy projects shows how we can recycle and reuse waste material, while supporting people and businesses in our communities. Under the leadership of John Bradburn, our Global Manager of Waste Reduction, we launched our Do Your Part program – which empowers employees and communities to connect their individual actions to broader social and environmental causes.
This connection includes Flint, Michigan, which is dealing with a water and health crisis since high levels of lead were discovered in the city's drinking water. Our team wanted to create a project to recycle the millions of plastic water bottles that have been delivered to Flint. The result is an ongoing and sustainable program to put the recycled bottles to work in a way that helps grow domestic jobs, reduces the environmental impacts of those water bottles and assists people in need.
In 2016 alone, we took in more than 4 million used water bottles – 2 million from Flint, and the rest from six GM facilities around Michigan. We worked with a number of suppliers to process the plastic – washing, flaking, converting to resin and then to fibers – and created three unique fleece products, two of which are used within GM. One creates a noise-reducing fleece insulation that covers the V6 engine of our Chevy Equinox, while the other is used in air-filtration components for 10 GM facilities.
As part of this project, we partnered with two community organizations to recycle these bottles into new opportunities. The N.E.W. Life Center in Flint is training at-risk individuals to make air filter panels from the recycled bottles and provides other job-training skills as they complete the program. The Empowerment Plan in Detroit gives jobs as seamstresses to previously homeless women. GM provided enough recycled plastic fleece for these women to sew 6,500 coats that transform into sleeping bags, which are provided free to people in need. The nonprofit provides job training and skill development to help these women find long-term, sustainable work.
We envisioned this project from the start as a way to grow a circular economy. Rather than shipping those plastic bottles overseas for processing, we realized we could work domestically to grow local economies. By working with a number of smaller suppliers, we expanded the economic impact of the program. And our partnerships with local job-training organizations helped bring more people into the economy, all the while providing help to people in need. The innovation and wide-ranging benefits of this project earned GM the 2016 Environmental Award at the Society of Plastics Engineers Automotive Innovation Awards Competition.
RePurposing Office Equipment
In 2016, we conducted major renovations at three of our main Michigan sites, and identified the need to find a new home for our surplus office equipment. We worked with two partners to address this challenge: Furniture maker Herman Miller and its rePurpose office equipment recycling program and Green Standards, a firm dedicated to connecting companies having surplus resources to local nonprofits.
Through this program we have been able to divert from landfills nearly all existing furniture, equipment and supplies from GM’s technical center in Warren proving ground in Milford and global headquarters in Detroit. This resulted in $1 million of in-kind donations to about 100 Michigan-based community organizations.
Among the first beneficiaries of the rePurpose program is Cody High School in Detroit, with whom GM has been closely involved over the past six years. In addition to furniture and equipment, employee volunteers from GM, Herman Miller and Green Standards conducted a three-room makeover – repainting and repairing each room – to improve the educational experience of students and faculty.
Building a Marketplace
In 2016, we also continued our work with the Materials Marketplace, with the United States Business Council for Sustainable Development. The project, which brings together many companies within the United States and other areas of the world, is intended to help participating companies identify ways to reuse or exchange undervalued materials through an online database and establish new circular supply chains. By participating in the Marketplace, GM and other companies reduce their operational costs from sourcing and disposing of materials at each end of the product life cycle, lower the environmental impacts of our operations and have the opportunity to share and learn about best practices with peers in the automotive industry and other industries.