Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Gulf Oil Spill Motors Away

The term "sustainable consumption" keeps running through my brain lately; turns out the greenies had already coined the term and are one step ahead of me, of course. They sounded the alarm early and often, and it's great to see the rest of the world catching up to the fact that we can't keep consuming all our natural resources and expect to have any sort of quality of environment left when we are done. The act of recycling has been growing my entire lifetime now, and so much so recently that we see major companies touting their efforts with pride. One example made the news this past week:

Oil-soaked plastic boom material used to soak up oil in the Gulf of Mexico is finding new life as auto parts in the all electric-powered Chevrolet Volt.

General Motors has developed a method to convert an estimated 100 miles of the material off the Alabama and Louisiana coasts and keep it out of the nation's landfills. The ongoing project is expected to create enough plastic under hood parts to supply the first year production of the extended-range electric vehicle.

"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. "We reuse and recycle material by-products at our 76 landfill-free facilities every day. This is a good example of using this expertise and applying it to a greater magnitude."

Recycling the booms will result in the production of more than 100,000 pounds of plastic resin for the vehicle components, eliminating an equal amount of waste that would otherwise have been incinerated or sent to landfills.

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

Taking the waste from a disaster and using it for good. And I highly doubt GM is doing this for a feel-good press release; if it were cost-prohibitive, they wouldn't bother. No, my guess is that GM and other manufacturers are finding that it may be better to reuse existing material rather than purchase new. And if they can't use it for a part or material, they convert it to energy.

GM is dedicated to reducing its waste and pollutants, and recycles materials at every state of the product lifecycle. It uses recycled and renewable materials in its cars and trucks, which are at least 85 percent recyclable. Used tires, old plastic bottles, denim and nylon carpet are all redirected from landfills and reused in select GM vehicles.

GM facilities worldwide recycle 90 percent of the waste they generate. The automaker recently announced more than half of its worldwide facilities are now landfill-free – all manufacturing waste is recycled or used to create energy.

The knuckle-draggers may still be chanting "drill, baby, drill", but the captains of industry are moving on, and converting to their production methods and products towards a more sustainable form of consumerism. And, if industry leaders are doing this, the rest of us will surely follow in the long run. You can see evidence of increased recycling awareness everywhere now. It's become a part of the national consciousness.

Game over. We win. It may take a while to get the rest of the world on board, but eventually it will happen - and it's great to see companies like the Shiny New GM leading the way.