Earth Week Guest Post: A GM Engineer’s Drive to Make Recycled Content Mainstream

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Earth Week Guest Post: A GM Engineer’s Drive to Make Recycled Content Mainstream

By Matthew Vandyke

This fabric insulation, set on top of the engine as a demonstration, is made from water bottles collected from various GM facilities. The material sits beneath the nylon engine cover to further dampen engine noise. (Photo by Santa Fabio for General Motors)

Matthew Vandyke is a materials engineer at General Motors.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017 - 4:30pm

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CONTENT: Blog

Matthew, a materials engineer at General Motors, offers tips on how to incorporate more recycled content into manufacturing. 

Several years ago, when I was offered a management position at a plastics recycling company, I had no idea that it would change the way I thought about manufacturing.  Once I was able to take in and comprehend the volume of materials that are recycled and reused in all types of industries, I was surprised, to say the least. 

For me, recycling had always been a bin at the curb or a stack of newspapers being repurposed into paper bags. But, even at this relatively small company, this was not even close to actual reality.  I saw everything from pickle barrels to car bumpers being processed back into useable raw materials.

As I began my career at General Motors, I have always investigated ways to incorporate a recycled material where possible.  There have been some opportunities that have evolved into projects and eventually products for our company.  Most of these are accomplished by using recycled material from a supplier that specializes in recycling, into a part for one of our vehicles.  The applications can range from air intake systems to beauty covers to carpet backing.

One of the most impressive projects that I have been involved with was the “Do Your Part” project  masterminded by GM waste reduction expert John Bradburn. This project took polyester bottles collected from GM employees and recycled them, through a controlled supply base, into air filters for GM facilities, coats for the homeless, and acoustical insulation in some of our GM vehicles. This project not only has a positive impact on GM, but on all the companies that process the materials, as well as the less fortunate around the U.S.

As I continue my career and investigate new opportunities, I continue to entertain the use of recycled materials.  My advice for getting started is to keep an open mind.  Recycled material does not mean inferior material, although it is definitely better if recycled material is thought of up front and incorporated into the part design from the get-go. There are a lot of great plastic material recyclers out there that produce a high quality recycled product.  Some of these companies even target removing used carpeting from landfills and turning it into useable raw material. 

Also, involve others.  I have found that once the topic is brought up, you tend to find that your coworkers, as well as your suppliers, are interested in the same goal. 

Even as we continue to use large amounts of recycled plastics in the automotive industry, there is still an overwhelming amount that is underutilized and potentially landfilled.  I encourage us all to think about using recycled plastics when possible to continue the trends that have already been started.

Keywords: Environment | Earth Week | Employee Engagement | GM | General Motors | Recycling | Remediation | Responsible Business & Employee Engagement | Waste Reduction

CAMPAIGN: GM Waste Reduction

CONTENT: Blog