General Motors has launched a landmark post-Gulf oil spill initiative – boom recycling. Specifically, making Chevrolet Volt parts from oil-soaked booms.
GM has announced that the large absorbent booms used to soak up the oil from the Gulf of Mexico spill are being taken out of the water, cleaned, processed and turned into car parts like radiator air deflectors in new Chevrolet Volts. So far, more than 100 miles of boom, equal to 100,000 pounds of plastic resin that would have been dumped into landfills, are being remolded into usable parts.
It’s impossible to find any good from last summer’s disastrous oil spill, but GM is turning one part of it into parts and processes that partially mitigates the corporate blind eye that led to the Gulf of Mexico debacle in the first place.
The automaker has also pledged to make half of all their factories "landfill-free." In fact, it says, each GM plant already recycles or reuses 97% of their waste, and incinerates the remaining 3% for energy.
GM has been reducing landfill waste for nearly two decades. This year alone, 2.5 million tons of waste — mainly scrap metal, wood, cardboard, machining materials and batteries, have been recycled or reused, and the company has made $2.5 billion from selling waste for recycling in the last three years.
"We're trying to do more closed loop systems where we are taking our own waste streams and turning them into component manufacturing," said Sharon Basel, from GM's environment and energy communications department.
GM's Flint, Michigan plant was first to go landfill-free in 2005. All their plants have environmental engineers onsite, and employees across the board are encouraged to share ideas.
"One of the key things is to coordinate issues and projects, so if a plant is successful...we'll probably talk about it and share that (with other plants)," said John Bradburn, who manages GM's waste initiatives.
In a Fort Wayne, Ind. plant, plastic caps and shipping pieces become radiator shrouds for the Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra; shredded tires from a Milford Proving Ground are sent to a GM supplier to make baffles, under-parts of a car that direct air and water; cardboard at all plants becomes sound-absorbing material for headliner’s in the Buick Lacrosse.
"This was purely a matter of helping out," adds Bradburn. "If sent to a landfill, these materials would have taken hundreds of years to begin to break down and we didn't want to see the spill further impact the environment. We knew we could identify a beneficial reuse of this material given our experience.
“Creative recycling is one extension of GM’s overall strategy to reduce its environmental impact,” said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Environment, Energy and Safety policy. “This is a good example of using this expertise and applying it to a greater magnitude.”