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Honda Hits Zero Waste at Ten Plants, On Heels of GM News

Honda has achieved zero waste to landfill status at ten of its 14 plants in North America, with the remaining plants achieving a “virtually zero” level, the car maker has announced.

Among all of its 14 plants in North America, Honda now sends less than 0.5 percent of all operating waste to landfills. Remaining waste product is either recycled or used for energy recovery.  For the fiscal year ending March 31, 2012 (FY2012), Honda expects that the 14 plants will produce 230,000 tons of waste, of which about 1,000 tons will go to landfills.

The zero-waste figure accounts for operating waste from production, as well as all office and cafeteria waste associated with manufacturing operations.  Last week, General Motors announced that ten of its non-manufacturing sites now reuse, recycle or convert to energy all waste from normal operations.

“There is no accepted industry standard for measuring or reporting on waste to landfill, which makes it difficult to make an apples-to-apples comparison,” Honda said in a statement.

The company’s waste-reduction efforts are continuing, with a program that will call on suppliers to join its zero waste-to-landfill push. Karen Heyob, associate chief engineer and manager of Honda’s zero-landfill program, told Automotive News that the company’s new Supplier Sustainability program will encourage parts and material suppliers to adopt zero-landfill goals.

“We believe there’s a lot of opportunity in doing this to help suppliers manage their costs better,” she said.

Honda says that it has cut waste to landfills dramatically over the past 11 years, from 62.8 pounds of industrial waste for every car produced in FY2001 to about 1.8 pounds per automobile in FY2012. As a result, the company says, it has saved 4.4 billion pounds of waste from the landfill, equivalent to the trash produced by 2.8 million Americans in a year.

“This is an important achievement and a tremendous reflection on the commitment and continuous effort of Honda associates throughout our company over the past 10 years to reduce waste from Honda’s production operations,” Heyob said. “This is an even more significant achievement when you consider that we also produce in North America the engines and transmissions that power our products.”

Honda says that only two landfill waste streams remain in all of its North American production activities. These are paper, plastic and food waste from break rooms and cafeterias at Mexican car and motorcycle plants, where the company says there is no more environmentally responsible means of disposal; and a byproduct of the paint pretreatment process for aluminum body panels at both the East Liberty and Marysville, Ohio, auto plants. This byproduct is not recyclable due to EPA regulations, but Honda is working with the EPA to identify alternative means of disposal, the company says.

The company’s first zero-waste milestone came in 2001, when its plant in Lincoln. Ala., became the first zero-waste-to-landfill auto plant in North America, according to Honda. Another plant in Greensburg, Ind., started production as a zero-waste-to-landfill plant in 2008.

To understand what comprised each plant’s landfill waste, Honda staff went “Dumpster diving,” looking at the composition of its waste, the company says.

Staff at all 14 North American plants then identified and implemented hundreds of waste-reduction and recycling initiatives. These included the reduction of offal (metal scrap) in stamping processes, improved parts packaging for ease of recycling, and minimization of paper and plastic waste from cafeterias.

Teams of employees engaged in annual competitions to find ways to cut waste, as well as improve efficiency and cut costs.

Examples of waste reduction initiatives include:

  • Engine plants in Ohio, Alabama and Canada are reusing virtually all leftover sand from aluminum and ferrous metal casting operations. In FY2010, the three plants recycled 9,400 tons of sand, which is used as mulch and landscaping material, and in concrete products.
  • No steel scrap from North American manufacturing operations has been going to landfills. In FY2009, the Marysville Auto Plant initiated a program to reduce the amount of offal by reducing the size of steel sheets used to stamp new body parts, a program that is now being adopted by other Honda factories in North America, and  is under consideration at plants around the world.
  • Plants have transitioned to washable dishware in their cafeterias and are disposing of solid waste through composting, recycling and energy recovery.
  • The Marysville and East Liberty, Ohio, plants recently began washing and reusing thousands of plastic caps each day that are used to protect parts during shipping.
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