GM Ft. Wayne plant earns zero-landfill designation

Plant earns $2 million in recycling revenue last year


General Motors' Fort Wayne Assembly Plant, where Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra full-size pickup trucks are built, is the automaker's first U.S. assembly plant to reuse, recycle or convert to energy all the waste created in its daily operations.

Fort Wayne recently received zero-landfill designation, joining 78 other GM landfill-free manufacturing facilities around the world.

"Assembly plants are challenged with a large amount of waste streams and byproducts, from varying types of plastics and metals to expendable packaging and containers," said John Bradburn, GM manager of waste-reduction efforts. "Fort Wayne has succeeded in finding sustainable options for these materials while working with other GM plants and suppliers to improve its impact from an overall systems perspective."

Nine GM operations that supply Fort Wayne with stampings, engines, transmissions and components are also landfill-free.

"We look at our waste-reduction efforts from a larger's not just about Fort Wayne, it's about greening the overall footprint, including the supply base," said Bradburn.

A key to Fort Wayne's landfill-free designation was a process and material change in its paint shop enabling the recycling of processed wastewater treatment sludge that formerly was sent to landfills because of regulatory requirements.

The plant also participates in "closed loop" recycling, repurposing its manufacturing byproducts into new car parts.

Absorbent pads used to soak up oil and water from the plant floor are cleaned and reused up to three times. Afterward, GM will begin to recycle the material into Silverado and Sierra air deflectors, which also contain some of the plant's recycled packaging plastic.

Cardboard packaging from the plant is recycled into Buick Verano and Lacrosse headliners to provide acoustical padding that reduces noise in the passenger compartment.

Fort Wayne generated more than $2 million in recycling revenue last year.

The plant's sustainability progress goes beyond waste reduction. Like GM's Orion Township, Mich., assembly plant, Fort Wayne is powered in part by methane gas produced from a nearby landfill, saving the plant $1 million per year. Beginning in early December, GM will commission another boiler to run on landfill gas, resulting in additional savings and increasing the amount of landfill gas used from 15% to 21%. The renewable energy program, which started in 2002, supplements natural gas to fire one of the plant's boilers. Additional plant efficiency results include:

  • Reducing electricity use by 36% between 2006 and 2010 on a per-vehicle manufactured basis.
  • Tracking real-time electrical use and conducting departmental meetings monthly to review energy performance and cost-reduction opportunities.
  • Converting high bay lighting to efficient T8 fluorescent fixtures, saving approximately $600,000 annually.
  • Reducing volatile organic carbon emissions by 18% on a per-vehicle produced basis between 2006 and 2010 due to paint shop efficiencies like batch building vehicles by paint color.

Like many GM plants, sustainability efforts extend to Fort Wayne employees, who spread their environmental knowledge to the community. Each year, volunteers participate in litter and household hazardous waste collection efforts and mentor area students on how everyday actions impact local watersheds through the GM Global Rivers Environmental Education Network program.

Fort Wayne recently received a $275 million investment to build the next-generation full-size pickups, creating or retaining 150 jobs.

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