GM turns plastic bottles into coats for the homeless

Water bottles also used for fleece for engine insulation, air filters

Published: August 24, 2016, 9:30 PM
Updated: December 7, 2016, 5:52 PM

GM Recycled Fleece

You know those plastic water bottles you drop in your blue box? Ever wonder where they end up, given that we hear they take thousands of years to decompose when left in landfills? If you’re in Flint, Michigan, they could end with the homeless, courtesy of General Motors.

Coats for homeless

The company has recently announced an initiative (called Do Your Part) to partner with Schupan Recycling in scooping up two million water bottles from Flint residents to turn into fleece that goes into three products — engine covers (for the Equinox crossover), air filters (heading to 10 GM plants), and insulation for coats for homeless people (as part of the Empowerment Plan).

And there’s more sustainability … the fleece applications are manufactured at the N.E.W. Life Center in Flint, where at-risk individuals are employed as part of their life change preparation employment-skills development, as part of a non-profit project.

The Empowerment Plan employs sewers that were homeless, and uses the donated fleece to make 6,500 insulated coats that turn into sleeping bags, making everyday life on the streets just a little bit easier for homeless individuals. Each coat is estimated to contain 31 water bottles.

The former homeless are taught soft and hard skills to help them progress into bigger and better employment opportunities through training in lean manufacturing.

“We’re committed to proving to employers that formerly homeless people can be a skilled talent pool,” said Veronika Scott, founder and CEO of The Empowerment Plan. “The end product is more than a coat: It empowers women to take control of their lives and provides the path to long-term, sustainable jobs.”

The program engages a network of 11 organizations, including GM supplier Filtration Services (which uses its 9,000 square feet of fleece to make air filter panels). GM’s involvement in the Empowerment Plan also includes cash donations of $230,000 from the GM Foundation since 2013.

GM’s five facilities in the Detroit and Flint areas supply an estimated 1.2 million bottles to the program.

“People want to do the right thing,” said John Bradburn, GM global waste reduction manager. “The Do Your Part recycling initiative is a way our employees and communities can connect their individual actions to broader social and environmental causes.”