Coming up with "out-of-the-box" recycling ideas is always rewarding, but when a recycling solution creates something positive in the face of one of the worst oil spills in U.S. history, then our sense of satisfaction soars. Such was the case in 2010 when we worked with suppliers to recycle, rather than landfill, 227 miles of plastic boom material that had been used to soak up oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
Furthermore, recycling the booms resulted in the production of more than 100,000 pounds of plastic resin used in the manufacture of a year's worth of air-deflection baffles for the Chevrolet Volt. The parts, which deflect air around the vehicle's radiator, are composed of 25 percent boom material, 25 percent recycled tires from our Milford Proving Ground vehicle test facility and 25 percent plastic shipping aids from our Fort Wayne, Indiana, assembly plant. The remaining 25 percent is a mixture of postconsumer recycled plastics and other polymers.
This initiative not only extended the life of the boom material, but also avoided sending to landfill 29,000 gallons of oil and 212,500 pounds of the boom material that would have taken years to break down. In addition, the recycling effort prevented 149 tons of CO2–equivalent emissions from entering the air.
The original idea was the brainchild of John Bradburn, our manager of waste-reduction efforts and recycling "guru," who has years of recycling expertise and experience. The recovery and development processes reflect a team effort with several partners. Heritage Environmental managed the collection of boom material along the Louisiana coast. Mobile Fluid Recovery stepped in next and used a massive high-speed drum that spun the booms to dry them, using centrifugal force to remove absorbed oil and wastewater. Then the material was shredded and compounded into the physical state necessary for plastic die-mold production. One of our direct suppliers, GDC, Inc., used its Enduraprene™ material process to combine the resin with other plastic compounds to produce the components. This joint effort came together in a cost-neutral way.
"This was purely a matter of helping out. We knew we could identify a beneficial re-use of the material, given our experience, and you can't put a price on the sense of satisfaction this initiative brought to our team."
John's creativity and passion for recycling is well known at GM. Another idea of John's was using battery covers from the Chevrolet Volt as waterfowl and bat nest-box structures that have been placed throughout North America. In addition, John has been instrumental in establishing the GM By-Products Program that drives financial consideration into a single-point management system for all manufacturing by-products.