General Motors draws up zero waste blueprint for car industry

General Motors has outlined a business case for zero waste in the form of a blueprint that details how the automotive sector can work towards landfill-free production practices.

The GM document discusses the concept of ‘byproduct synergies’ whereby one company’s output can become another’s resource, or input – a theme that aligns itself with circularity and the idea of ‘open loop’ systems.

It says that cross-industry collaboration will become increasingly important in terms of sharing best practice and that automotive manufacturers need to work more closely with academic and research institutions to create a more structured approach to zero waste initiatives.

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

It urges companies to openly discuss different ways of working that have proven to be effective, saying organisations must “brainstorm” uses for challenging byproducts.

As many deal with the same types of waste streams such as packaging, paper and metals, GM suggests a mentoring approach could prove invaluable if implemented across different industries and also further down the supply chain.

GM, which has already achieved zero waste to landfill at 83 of its manufacturing sites and 19 non-manufacturing sites, believes there should be a “common definition” for the term ‘zero waste’ to ensure consistency of progress and reporting mechanisms across the industry.

To this end, it has started to engage third parties in review of its data for greater transparency and accountability. It is also seeking clarification of zero waste criteria as according to the US-based Zero Waste International Alliance, businesses and communities that achieve over 90% diversion rates from landfills and incinerators are considered to be acceptable.

Linked to this GM is now focusing its efforts on moving waste further up the hierarchy by concentrating on reduction activities and rethinking product design. Company business plans contain integrated waste reduction goals driven by cross-party engagement with staff, suppliers and service providers.

“Waste reduction often enhances productivity, quality, efficiency and throughput,” the blueprint states. “All GM plants monitor, measure and centrally report their performance on a monthly basis where it is evaluated against company-wide waste reduction goals.”

It adds that upfront costs associated with implementing landfill diversion programmes “generally decrease in time” as recycling revenues tend to offset investments. Initially GM had to invest around $10 for every tonne of waste reduced – programme costs have since been cut by 92% and total waste reduced by 62%.

To improve the business case for zero waste, GM says automotive manufacturers may have to re-evaluate their operations and consider alternative suppliers or substitute different materials used in production. Logistical changes, energy options and alternative processing technologies should also be explored.

Maxine Perella

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie