General Motors is turning its employees' recycled water bottles into a new life: noise-reducing fabric insulation that covers the Chevrolet Equinox engine. The bottles – collected from five of its Michigan facilities – are also being turned into air filtration components and insulation in coats for the homeless community.
Given its drive to zero waste, all of GM's global facilities recycle their water bottles. However, the bottles collected at the five locations are now funneled into its "Do Your Part" project, where 11 businesses collaborate to give them a second life.
The air filtration components are used in GM facilities to protect air quality; and the insulation goes into Empowerment Plan coats that transform into sleeping bags.
"Recycling is good, but viewing waste as a valuable resource that can be plugged into your operations or products is even better," said John Bradburn, GM global manager of waste reduction. "It's about rethinking the process and finding more sustainable ways to manufacture products and contribute to our communities."
GM pursued this project after analyzing its impacts from a holistic business case:
- Sourcing recycled material costs the same while saving energy and reducing waste.
- Engaging a network of companies to process the material in North America strengthens the economy.
- Donating 24,000 yards of insulation – enough to make 6,500 coats – helps the homeless.
"Many of today's businesses are challenging the take-make-dispose model and seeing the benefits of a more circular economy," said Andrew Mangan, executive director of the U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development. "From closed-loop recycling to helping launch material reuse networks, GM is thinking differently and getting other companies to join in."
GM demonstrates how a supply chain can become a supply web where business opportunities stem from an original project, furthering the mission and driving more social and economic impact.
Each partner engaged in this initiative brings specific capabilities. Hamtramck Recycling bails the plastic bottles collected from GM's world headquarters at the Renaissance Center, Warren Technical Center, and Orion Assembly, Flint Tool and Die, and Flint Engine plants. Clean Tech Inc. washes the bottles and converts them to flake. Unifi, Inc. recycles the bottle flake into resin. Palmetto Synthetics processes the resin to create fibers and William T. Burnett & Co. processes the fibers into various forms of fleece, serving all three applications.
- Rogers Foam Corp. die cuts the fleece and EXO-s attaches it into the nylon cover for the Chevrolet Equinox V6 engine. The part helps further dampen engine noise to deliver a quiet ride.
- Filtration Services Group works with New Life Center, a nonprofit jobs development and training mission in Flint, to make the panels for the air filtration fleece, which is then sent to 10 GM facilities.
- The coat insulation is sent to Carhartt, a workwear company established in Detroit in 1889, who cuts it to size for The Empowerment Plan.
GM also is working with various organizations such as Schupan Recycling in Flint to collect additional water bottles to plug into the project.
GM uses recycled content in many of its vehicles. Cardboard from various GM plants is recycled into a sound-dampening material in the Buick Verano headliner; plastic caps and shipping aids from its Fort Wayne facility are mixed with other materials to make radiator shrouds for the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra; and test tires from Milford Proving Ground are shredded and used in the manufacturing of air and water baffles for a variety of GM cars.
GM has 131 landfill-free facilities around the world and recycles the equivalent of 38 million garbage bags of byproducts each year. For more information on GM's environmental commitment, visit its sustainability report and environmental blog.