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Waste Minimization

Designing for the Environment

Beyond using sustainable inputs in our vehicles, there are other ways we can reduce the volume of waste we generate and the impact we have.

GM has made steady progress in reducing our operational waste intensity over the past decade. In 2020, we completed the last year of progress toward our goal to reduce waste intensity by 40% and achieve 150 landfill-free sites against a 2010 baseline.

We successfully achieved our initial landfill-free goal between 2014 and 2015 and the second stretched target in 2016. Our strategic restructuring process in 2018 made GM more agile and profitable, but reduced the number of landfill-free sites to 85 in 2020. To take advantage of new advancements in waste management, GM is launching our new Zero Waste circular economy program. This will entail diverting 90% or more of our operational waste from landfills across targeted facilities by 2025. Importantly, waste must also be diverted from use in any type of incineration, making this goal more thorough than a landfill-free target. This program is one of the most comprehensive in the automotive industry, covering solid, liquid and hazardous waste. The Zero Waste program will also enable innovation in the recycling industry, which is a critical component in achieving our diversion target. Between 2017 and 2019, GM diverted an average of 81% of our total waste from landfills or incineration. This figure will be the baseline against which we measure progress toward our 2025 goal.

As in the past, innovation, adoption of new technologies and engagement with suppliers both upstream and downstream will help us lead in this area. For example, certain wood pallets are made to particular specifications and cannot be shredded and used as mulch. Rather than sending these materials to landfills, we are working with our design team and upstream suppliers to transition to pallets that are returnable, eliminating the need for disposal after a single use.

Along the same lines, our Gravataí assembly plant in Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, undertook a packaging optimization project in which they reduced and eliminated unnecessary packaging from shipments and replaced single-use packaging with returnable materials. Through these efforts, the plant will save 205 tons of wood, 85 tons of cardboard and 30 tons of plastics per year. Similarly, our Joinville manufacturing facility in Santa Catarina, Brazil, took a “containerization” approach to waste reduction. By working with suppliers, they transitioned from components that were delivered individually packaged to bulk packaging that significantly reduced cardboard and plastic waste by 233 tons per year. We’re also working with suppliers in Mexico to reduce returnable packaging. Our plants in Mexico recycle most waste, including sending metal to be re-ground into new products or to be reused within GM, and reusing plastic byproducts in pallets, bags and more.

External Engagement and Partnerships

In early 2021, GM, Ford and Stellantis formed a Sustainable Materials Working Group at the U.S. Automotive Materials Partnership LLC (USAMP), which is a subsidiary of the U.S. Council of Automotive Research LLC (USCAR). USCAR is the collaborative technology company of the three U.S. automotive OEMs. The team’s first major program is chemical recycling of automotive shredder residue (ASR), the remaining material—consisting of plastics and other organic materials such as fabric, rubber, glass and polymers—after shredding an end-of-life vehicle. In order to recycle ASR, USAMP is working with PADNOS and Eastman Chemical Company. PADNOS will demonstrate a cost-effective, energy-efficient, closed-loop process that requires minimal mechanical recycling and processing of ASR to prepare it for use as a feedstock for Eastman’s Carbon Renewal Technology (CRT) processes. This circular economy solution will result in cost-effective recovered plastic constituents that can be reformulated for automotive components.

Reducing Landfill Waste Beyond Our Facilities

We’re engaging local community stakeholders worldwide on waste reduction. In Colombia, GM works with a local solid waste management company, a local public school and United Way Colombia on replicating aspects of GM’s landfill-free program within the community. We have also partnered with EcoWorks, a local nonprofit, to support the recycling of plastic into plastic-composite bricks for prefab housing. In Ecuador, GM’s progress on food waste is informing a food waste reduction project at the Universidad San Francisco de Quito.

GM leads working groups with other automotive OEMs through the Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), and Suppliers Partnership for the Environment (SP). Last year, a SP working group released packaging guidelines supported by Ford, Stellantis, GM, Toyota and Honda.

GM is a signatory to the EPA America Recycles Day pledge. As part of our commitment to reduce waste generation, we collaborate with EPA and other pledge signatories to enhance the nation’s recycling system, helping to create a sustainable path for a circular economy to protect the environment. To do so, we are working with other companies in three groups: to promote education and outreach, strengthen secondary materials markets and enhance measurement. We also are partnering with the U.S. Department of Energy on their zero-waste pilot program, which will provide methods for data tracking and benchmarking. We are one year into a two-year partnership with the agency, after which they will share their lessons learned.

Employee Engagement on Waste Reduction

Because best practices account for so much of waste minimization efforts, environmental engineers in both manufacturing and nonmanufacturing operations receive state-of-the-art zero waste training focused on ways to achieve GM’s Zero Waste goal. We have introduced an online sustainability course, available to all employees globally, to support our new sustainability goals. The course covers environmental, social and governance-related aspects of corporate sustainability.

To further increase awareness of sustainability topics, the Sustainable Workplaces team organized a second Sustainability Symposium in 2020. The event was held virtually, as a weeklong series of lunch and learns and a fireside chat with our Chief Sustainability Officer, and other members of the Office of Sustainability. Lunch and learn session topics included the pillars of GM sustainability goals of Greenhouse Gas, Fuel Economy and Sustainability; Zero Waste; Water; Sustainable Materials; and Energy. Each consisted of an expert presentation of the topic, GM's progress, an employee call to action and time for questions and answers.

All office tenants and restaurants at the Renaissance Center, GM’s global headquarters in Detroit, participate in a compost program. Scraps are used to create nutrient-rich compost that is used in urban gardens throughout the city, including GM’s Beaubien Garage rooftop garden. Produce from the garden is donated to a local restaurant, which makes donations equal to the food’s value to an organization that serves Detroit’s homeless.
Reduce Waste Intensity by 40%
2010 Baseline 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Progress
307 265 222 229 223 222 222
Reach 150 Landfill-Free Sites
2010 Baseline 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019 2020 Progress
66 112 131 142 137 94 85