General Motors hails ‘circular economy’ solution for its food waste

General Motors is composting food waste from its global headquarters in Detroit, US, for redistribution in urban farming initiatives throughout the city in what it is calling a "circular" initiative.

The company’s multi-office tower is already a zero waste to landfill site, but it also owns the Renaissance Centre – a group of seven interconnected skyscrapers co-located by the complex, which features 20 restaurants within it.

This latest initiative has seen General Motors team up with local composting startup Detroit Dirt to take food preparation scraps such as coffee grounds, fruit and vegetable peelings from these restaurant kitchens and mix them with herbivore manure. As well as local farms, the rooftop garden at the complex is also benefiting from the arrangement.

General Motors says its Renaissance Centre remains the most complex of the company’s 111 landfill-free sites as it’s the only one open to the public. The centre covers 5.5 million square feet and also hosts the Western Hemisphere’s tallest all-hotel skyscraper, 11 other businesses and 27 retailers.

The composting initiative started with a 280-seat Italian restaurant, which has generated 12,000 pounds in weight of food scraps since April. A special container has been installed at the restaurant enabling chefs to dispose of their scraps – the bin is on rollers for ease of mobility around the kitchen.

The initiative expanded in July to include five other food service outlets. Other restaurants in the building’s main food court will come on-board in the Autumn. Around 51,000 tonnes of food waste is expected to be collected by the end of the year.

General Motors has also collaborated with CBRE, the building’s property manager, to add 16 raised garden beds on an adjacent parking garage rooftop. The beds – reused shipping crates from General Motors’ Orion Assembly plant – will be tended by building staff. The compost will help filter pollutants, absorb water and provide nutrients for herbs and vegetables.

Any leftover food waste from will be converted to energy at a facility a few blocks away, and redistributed to help power local businesses in the area. According to General Motors’ global manager of waste reduction John Bradburn, “landfill-free” isn’t a finish line.

“We look at our landfill free programme as one of continual improvement. We take resources or by-products and continue to find better ways to manage them. In case we’ll take resources from our food courts will be combined with materials from other soils and we’ll grow food with that so it becomes circular.”

Of the 111 landfill-free sites operated by the company, most of these are manufacturing bases – 50 in North Armeria, 34 in Asia Pacific, 20 in Europe, six in South America and one in Africa. On average, 97% of the waste generated from operations at these plants is recycled or reused, with 3% is converted to energy.

Maxine Perella

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