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GM Shares Zero-Waste Best Practices

General Motors is sharing details about how it has turned more than half of its manufacturing plants into landfill-free facilities and which best practices helped the automaker turned its own waste byproducts into a $1 billion-a-year revenue generator.

GM released a downloadable blueprint “The Business Case for Zero Waste” in an effort to help companies of all sizes and industries reduce waste and create efficiencies.

The automaker, which recycles 90 percent of its worldwide manufacturing waste and has 102 landfill-free facilities, said achieving a zero-waste status requires investment and a long-term view. However, upfront costs generally decrease in time, with revenue generated from recycling and reuse helping to offset the initial investment.

For example, in 2005 when GM started its pursuit of landfill-free facilities in the US, it invested about $10 for every ton of waste reduced. GM has cut its program costs by 92 percent and reduced total waste by 62 percent.

The company generated $2.5 billion in revenue between 2007 and 2010 through recycling activities. GM estimates its annual byproduct recycling and reuse revenue is now about $1 billion a year.

GM follows nine steps to achieve landfill-free status, practices it says can be applied by other companies as well.

GM begins by tracking waste data; defining zero waste; and prioritizing waste-reduction activities, such as eliminating the amount of byproduct materials, reusing or recycling materials onsite or externally and generating energy from materials through incineration.

GM then engages employees to build a sustainable culture by creating rewards for new waste-reduction ideas. The company, for example, converted 227 miles of oil-soaked booms from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, off the Alabama and Louisiana coasts, into a production year’s worth of air deflectors in the Chevrolet Volt.

Other ideas included recycling cardboard packaging into Buick Verano and Lacrosse headliners to provide acoustic padding that reduces noise in the passenger compartment; and reworking pallets to form wood beams for the homebuilding industry.

A small corporate team oversees, coordinates and supports the waste program at GM to ensure a holistic approach and the sharing of best practices across the company.

GM then works to strengthen supplier partnerships; resolve regulatory challenges; and goes through a landfill-free verification process.

GM recommends that, even once a facility becomes landfill-free, the company should work to improve waste performance to reduce environmental footprint and costs, and generate additional revenue.

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