Zero Waste in the Automobile Industry

Automotive Leads by Example in Eliminating Solid Waste

GM recycles cardboard.

 The Concept of Zero Waste

Zero Waste” is a concept that encourages reusing, recycling and/or composting end of the life products and/or parts of products so that no waste is generated from any given product. The definition of Zero Waste can vary, however, as currently there is no universally agreed upon standard for the definition of Zero Waste. According to the Zero Waste International Alliance, the communities and companies that are able to reuse, recycle and/or compost over 90 percent of waste they generate can be considered acceptable as a Zero Waste company or community.

 But it becomes very difficult to achieve Zero Waste from any given product when its raw materials include one or more materials that are not recyclable and or very difficult to recycle. That is why sometimes redesigning manufacturing processes and products is necessary to achieve “Zero Waste”.

Trying to achieve Zero Waste in the automobile industry is nothing new. Let’s have a look on how much some of the top automobile companies worldwide have approved “Zero Waste”

General Motors (GM)

GM has been the pioneer in the automobile industry trying to achieve Zero Waste. It has a goal of having 125 total facilities completely landfill-free by 2020. According to the GM website, currently 89 GM manufacturing facilities have been declared completely landfill-free.  Around 97 percent of waste generated from manufacturing operations in these manufacturing facilities is reused and recycled and the remaining 3 percent is converted to energy.

GM’s regional headquarter and other offices are not out of its Zero Waste program. Currently, 33 of GM offices have also been declared Zero Waste. So, the total number of GM’s Zero Waste facilities is 122. GM claims that the conversion of its facilities and offices to zero waste-to-landfills helps it to stop more than 600,000 tons of carbon emissions from entering our environment annually.


Ford, another giant in the automobile industry, has been trying to achieve Zero Waste in its facilities around the globe as well but is not as successful as GM. Currently; Ford has 21 facilities worldwide that have Zero Waste generation status. Most recently, Ford’s Oakville Assembly plant has been declared zero waste-to-landfill after the Essex Engine Plant and Windsor Engine Plant achieved the same status in 2012 and 2013 respectively. The addition of the  Oakville Assembly plant to the list of Zero Waste plant will help Ford to achieve its global goal of reducing waste-to-landfill by 40 percent per vehicle from 2011 to 2016. Previously, from 2007 to 2011, Ford was successful in reducing per vehicle waste generation by 40 percent.


Not much about Toyota’s recent initiatives towards zero waste-to-landfills has been found online. In its 2011 North American Environmental report, Toyota Motors North America Inc. declared that it has reached near zero waste to landfill in its North American manufacturing plants. Toyota reports using that 98 percent of the transport packaging it uses is reusable. Reusable packaging is a key strategy in solid waste reduction for the automotive manufacturing supply chain.

Zero Waste in Other Automobile Companies

Almost all the automobile companies have been working hard to reduce the level of waste they generate and reuse and recycle as much as they can. But no other companies have been as successful as GM in this regard. Ford comes after GM in terms of success in achieving Zero Waste. On February 19, 2013, G.M. organized a meeting in Spring Hill, Tenn. to foster recycling facilities in the Southeast. The meeting was attended by Toyota, Chrysler, Nissan, Volkswagen as well as many automotive suppliers. But other than GM, Ford, and Toyota, other automobile companies have not been expressive about their efforts toward achieving Zero Waste.

Again, while the achievement of Zero Waste in facilities should be celebrated, policy makers and the public should be mindful that currently there is no industry association or independent body to verify the claims by any particular automobile company.