GM Makes the Business Case for Zero Waste

General Motors is closing in on Zero Waste, and it isn’t wasting the expertise it has developed in getting there. The automotive giant is offering a downloadable blueprint that summarizes its process for making its plants and facilities landfill-free, meaning all production waste generated is reused, recycled or used to create energy. The document is intended to help companies of all sizes and industries reduce waste and create efficiencies.

Industrial facilities in the United States generate and manage 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste in land disposal units annually, according the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. General Motors, however, recycles 90 percent of its worldwide manufacturing waste and has 102 landfill-free facilities toward a goal of 125 globally by 2020. For GM and other companies in the automotive industry, an important component of waste reduction initiatives has been the establishment of reusable packaging systems over the years.

GM strives to recover all resources to their highest value by managing byproducts in one electronic tracking system. All byproducts are regarded as useful and marketable, and suppliers play integral roles in making happen. GM counts about $1 billion in revenue annually from byproduct recycling and reuse.

“A landfill-free program requires investment,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs. “It’s important to be patient as those upfront costs decrease in time, and recycling revenues will help offset them. This program allows GM to reduce its waste footprint while creating greater environmental awareness among employees and communities where we make and sell cars and trucks.”

When GM started its landfill-free program in the United States, it invested about $10 for every ton of waste reduced. Over time, it has reduced program costs 92 percent and total waste by 62 percent. GM encourages its workforce to find new ways to operate leaner and more efficiently.

“Whether a company is large or small, a landfill-free journey involves a long-term view, bottom-line focus, innovative thinking and ongoing collaboration,” said Robinson.

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