GM Doubles Recycling of Gulf Oil Spill Booms

by | May 24, 2011

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General Motors’ plans to turn oil-soaked booms from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill into air deflectors for its Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid has far exceeded expectations, the car company said yesterday.

GM has recycled 212,500 pounds of booms, more than double the 100,000 originally projected, and more than enough to make a production year’s worth of air-deflecting baffles.

The company announced last December that it would use more than 100 miles of booms from Louisiana and Alabama oil spill sites. So far, GM and its supplier partners – including Heritage Environmental, Mobile Fluid Recovery,and GDC, Inc. – have reused 227 miles of the material.

This has saved 29,000 gallons of water and oil from entering the nation’s landfills and prevented 149 tons of CO2 equivalent emissions from entering the air, the car company said.

“GM decided to offer assistance by collecting boom material from the Gulf coast until there was no longer a need,” said John Bradburn, GM’s manager of waste-reduction efforts. “We’re in the process of identifying other areas where the material we have left can be used – potentially in our plants – now that we have a sufficient quantity for the Volt.”

The parts, which deflect air around the vehicle’s radiator, are 25 percent boom material, 25 percent recycled tires from GM’s Milford Proving Ground vehicle test facility, and 25 percent packaging plastic from GM’s Fort Wayne Assembly plant. The remaining is a mixture of post-consumer recycled plastics and other polymers.

Before GM began the project, the only options for the contaminated boom material were disposing of it in a landfill or burning it for energy, the company said. Energy conversion is preferable to waiting hundreds of years for the material to decompose, GM said. But, it added, “Both options would have ended the life of a material that, if recycled, could live indefinitely.”

“We applaud GM for moving beyond traditional corporate responsibility efforts and finding a way to turn a portion of the waste from one of the worst environmental challenges in our nation’s history into something valuable,” said Corey Lambrecht, president of recycling directory organization Earth911, Inc. “We need more, creative cleanup and recycling efforts like these.”

In 2010, GM facilities worldwide recycled 92 percent of the waste they generated, the company said. It uses recycled and bio-based materials including plastic bottles, blue jeans, cardboard, carpet, tires, kenaf fibers, balsa wood and soy in its vehicles.

GM says that 52 percent of its worldwide facilities are now landfill-free, beating a goal to convert half of its 145 plants to landfill-free status by the end of 2010.

“We use recycled and bio-based materials whenever possible,” Bradburn said. “Fortunately, we were able to leverage what we know to aid in the Gulf cleanup efforts, produce a high-quality part for a brand-new vehicle and keep the boom material in its use phase all in a cost-neutral way.”

Last week the company announced that its assembly plant in Orion, Mich., is powering 40 percent of production of the 2012 Chevrolet Sonic and Buick Verano with landfill gas for an annual savings of $1.1 million. Recycled cardboard packaging from Orion and other GM plants and used denim are part of the Verano’s sound insulation – in an initiative similar to one Ford has implemented with the Focus.

Last month Ford announced that it has recycled nearly 4.1 million pounds of carpet into cylinder head covers, for the Escape, Fusion, Mustang and F-150.

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