ORLANDO, FLA. (Oct. 3, 1:45 p.m. ET) — General Motors Co. recycled 92 percent of all materials coming out of its manufacturing plants around the world last year.
But John Bradburn, manager of waste reduction at the automaker, said his company has a long way to go.
Bradburn, who was a keynote speaker at the Corporate Recycling & Waste Conference in Orlando last week, said waste reduction and reuse efforts have become so prevalent at his company that he no longer considers the material waste at all.
Instead, the byproducts from manufacturing have grown into a lucrative business for the Detroit-based company.
General Motors has made about $2.5 billion by selling scrap byproducts since 2007; the annual revenue stream is now about $1 billion annually, Bradburn said.
Even though General Motors famously went through bankruptcy court reorganization, Bradburn told the crowd that recycling and waste reduction continued to hold an important position in the company throughout the process.
While other things fell by the wayside as GM started to remake itself, an emphasis remained on examining waste streams. Waste and recycling programs survived, he said, “because of the baseline enthusiasm we had established over the last many years.”
Making a billion a year off of what was once considered waste also has a way of catching people's attention, from senior management on down, he said. And the work will continue into the future as the company is in the process of setting goals for 2020.
While General Motors posted an overall diversion rate of 92 percent around the world, more than half of the company's plants have achieved zero-waste status. On average, those plants recycle or reuse 97 percent of its byproducts, with the remaining 3 percent going to waste-to-energy plants.
But even there, Bradburn said he wants to drive the percentage of material being burned down another point to 2 percent while actually sending more material to incinerators.
Driving down the percentage while increasing volumes will require General Motors to keep adding plants to the zero waste column.
“Landfill-free – a very big deal to us,” he said at the conference co-organized by Waste & Recycling News and Republic Services Inc.
Bradburn indicated his company's definition of manufacturing byproducts “is very tight.”
“Basically everything and anything that's generated in that plant,” he said, is considered part of the byproduct stream.
General Motors does make one exception, however, as construction and demolition debris for projects at manufacturing sites is not considered part of the manufacturing waste stream. That material is still recycled, but not counted toward the plant's diversion numbers.
Along with 78 landfill-free manufacturing sites, General Motors also has 14 other facilities that have achieved that status.