An automaker’s environmental impact is usually interpreted to mean emissions or fuel efficiency. Though many may ask, “What took them so long?” GM is pledging publicly to implement a number of measures over the next couple of years in which to better protect the planet. Better late then never.
Within a year and a half, GM says 50% of their 160 global manufacturing facilities will be recycling nearly all of their waste and byproduct materials to become land-fill free. The production waste of the world’s biggest automaker consists annually, of 510 tons of aluminum, 600 tons of steel, 10 tons of alloy metals, 360 tons of wood pallets, 3 tons of paper, 20 tons of empty totes and drums, 250 tons of used oil, 220 tons of waste water residual and 5,400 tons of returnable packaging. At landfill-free plants, more than 96% of these waste materials are recycled or reused and 3% of that is converted to energy at waste-to-energy plants. This 3% of waste-to-energy material is basically, combustible plant trash. Not only is this protocol better for the environment, but beneficial to the company financially. In a statement, GM says as a result of its global recycling efforts, recycled metal scraps alone are approaching $1 billion in annual revenue. In North America alone, selling off its recycled cardboard, wood, oil, plastic and other materials added $16 million in revenue. The decision to recycle meant overcoming several challenges. For instance, metals and liquids that are used or mixed together in production have to be sent through special processes to extract one from the other, often adding costs and time to each car’s build time. But, as one of the largest companies in the world, a decision of this sort is significant not only for the amount of recycling that is involved, but because it resonates with all of GM’s suppliers and other companies that look to the automaker for leadership. Many of those contractors are being forced to take another look at their operations in order to cut down on their own waste, and consequently costs. According to GM, overcoming the mindset that it’s more inexpensive to landfill waste rather than reprocess it took alot of arm twisting GM began reevaluation of their procedures in 2000, when the cost of dealing with waste management efforts in the U.S. was about $32 million. In six years GM has reduced that figure by $8 million.