General Motors turns styrofoam into shoe soles

Material recycling a big step toward making GM plants landfill-free

Published: January 1, 2016, 6:30 AM
Updated: November 23, 2021, 2:42 PM

GM steps for turning styrofoam into shoe soles

Many of us who buy lamps, dishes or electronics online and have them delivered are familiar with the excessive amount of Styrofoam packaging to keep the products safe during travel.

It’s something that’s both welcome because it does a marvelous job of keeping your merchandise intact, but its also disconcerting because after the delivery it doesn’t decompose when sent to a landfill.

General Motors has come up with a novel use for the material — shoe soles.

As part of GM’s sustainability plan, plants such as the company facility in Toluca, Mexico, which gathers up the polystyrene foam packaging, bales it up and sends it off to be crushed and compressed into pellets that are then combined with other polymers to create shoe soles.

As with any recycling/reuse initiative, it all starts with proper sorting as materials are unpacked and used, and all of GM’s Mexican plant employees are on board with the program, meaning that all its facilities in the country (including warehouses and technical centres) don’t send any waste to landfills.

“Our global progress in waste reduction is possible because of employee participation, creative ideas, and a strong supplier network,” said Jim DeLuca, GM executive vice president of Global Manufacturing. “Our teams understand the positive impact of this initiative and they drive it in their facilities every day.”

Education plays a big part in reducing waste in that employees are not only aware of how to sort waste, but also how to be more effective in reducing waste in the first place.

For example, GM’s Vauxhall Ellesmere Port Assembly plant that produces the Astra compact is experimenting with moping up solvent spills with rags instead of disposable wipes, washing those rags as needed instead of throwing wipes in the trash.

A GM plant first achieved landfill-free status a decade ago and there are currently 131 such facilities in the company worldwide (including the CAMI plant in Ingersoll, Ont. and the Parts Distribution Centre in Langley, B.C.). The company hopes to reach 150 by the year 2020. In those facilities, all materials the come in are either used, recycled, reused or turned into energy.