At General Motors, it’s all hands on deck to make half of its manufacturing plants “nil to landfill” by the end of the year. According to John Bradburn, project manager for GM’s Design for Environment initiatives, 69 of the company’s plants worldwide are now landfill-free (up from 62, and 43 percent of production, in May).

But that’s just one part of the story: To reduce landfill waste, the company is also using as much recycled materials in its cars as is humanly possible. I asked Bradburn if the company was motivated by saving money, or by making an environmental statement. “It’s more in line with doing the right thing,” he said, “but the performance of the recycled materials is there.”

Here's how it all looks on video. Note that the recycling engineer is a woman, which reminds me of an earlier story on the females who put the Chevy Volt together:

Bradburn said that GM’s plants globally now average a 90 percent recycling rate. Wow, what a transformation for GM. This is the company targeted by Michael Moore in "Roger and Me". The hirsute director went as far as to wish GM would just expire, but I found that more than a little mean-spirited. He was "filled with joy" when he thought the company would fade from sight, but he's a minority of one, even in Flint, I’d say. Maybe he’ll take it all back now.

Here are some of the recycling programs involving GM’s manufacturing operations, many innovative and clever:

  • Old bumpers: They’re ground up and form new air inlet panels for such cars as the Chevy Camaro, Impala and Traverse, as well as the Cadillac CTS and CTS coupe.
  • Worn carpets: The GMC Acadia takes the nylon and remakes it into mirror frames, fascia brackets and door handle parts.
  • Used water bottles: The Cadillac SRX uses bottles and milk jugs in its air conditioning and heating vent covers. The Chevy Volt uses them in baffles along with recycled tires. Recycled stuff also goes into engine fans and shrouds, splash shields and dash insulators.
  • Cardboard. Used material from GM’s stamping pads are made into acoustic pads for the Buick Lacrosse’s headliner. That’s a 25 to 45 percent savings for GM, and it diverts the cardboard from the landfill.
  • Paint sludge. This muck is one of the biggest pollutants auto plants produce, and GM is using it as filler in the making of reusable shipping containers.
The recycling thing is snowballing. According to GM spokeswoman Sharon Basel, “Now when suppliers see a waste stream coming out of another industry, they contact us to see if it has the right chemical makeup from something we can recycle. They’re engaged in the process.”

If you printed out this column, make sure you print on the other side. Then you can recycle the paper.

Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

GM gets serious about recycling and its zero waste goal
In a bid to be zero waste at half its worldwide plants by the end of the year, General Motors is putting a lot of recycled product back into its cars.