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75-year-old GM plant in Rochester achieves landfill-free status

After four years of effort, including seven attempts to recycle an oily filter sludge generated from a machining operation, a 75-year-old General Motors manufacturing facility in Rochester, N.Y. has achieved landfill-free status.

The plant and its nearly 1,100 employees now reuse, recycle or convert to energy all waste from daily operations. With their achievement, GM’s landfill-free facility count is at 109, more than any automaker.

A plant pursuing landfill-free will review data, do dumpster dives to find the most landfilled items, and then tackle each waste stream to find better alternatives. It gets harder as you go and takes an entire plant’s commitment and sometimes outside partners to get the job done.

—John Bradburn, GM manager of waste reduction efforts

GM supplier Mobile Fluid Recovery helped the 1.8-million-square-foot facility solve its final roadblock to achieve landfill-free status: separating a mucky mixture of metal, filter paper and oil produced by a machine that cuts metal for fuel injector and manifold components.

The machine uses oil for lubrication from a central pit. Once complete, oil flows back to a section of the pit, carrying with it small pieces of metal shavings. Filters clean out the residue and metal chips, while clean oil flows back to the main pit to start the process again.

The solution was to centrifuge the remaining material. The velocity makes excess oil pass through a filter into a hose. The oil is filtered further to remove air and water, tested, and dumped back into the pit for reuse. The remaining dried filter paper and fine metal particles are converted into energy.

Employee participation and enthusiasm were instrumental in recycling other waste streams such as paper, plastic and cardboard.

The key to lasting behavioral change is putting employees at the center of the challenge. We communicated regularly on our progress; reaching landfill-free wouldn’t be possible without them.

—Gail Finkelstein, environmental engineer at GM’s Rochester Operations plant

Earlier in the plant’s landfill-free journey, the team relocated dumpster and recycling containers to better enable convenient collection, and designed clearer labels for easier sorting. The goal was to make recycling easy with simple instructions.

To increase cardboard recycling, signage communicated the fact that GM receives 2 cents per pound if recycled versus paying 3 cents per pound to send it to a landfill. Employees read which local recycling center receives the material and what its next life becomes—more cardboard and liners—after processing. In just a year, the plant recycled 115 tons of cardboard, more than twice as much collected the prior year, avoiding use of 950 cubic yards of landfill space. The plant executed similar communications for scrap paper and electronics.


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