While landfill is generating electricity for their Fort Wayne and Orion plants, General Motors has a very different plan for their massive Renaissance Center office complex in Detroit: Stop adding to landfill altogether.
To give you an idea of what a massive undertaking this is, the GM Renaissance Center is a 5.5-million-square-foot facility (including offices, restaurants, a shopping center and a skyscraper Marriot Hotel) that literally has its own freaking zip code. Some 15,000 people traipse through it daily, and they presumably drink coffee, unwrap sandwiches and print documents like the rest of us. Furthermore 3,000 of those daily inhabitants are visitors from the general public, whose behavior cannot be rigidly enforced as it can with employees and tenants.
To get a handle on the problem, over two years ago GM began doing what we once did as art students: dumpster diving. By physically sifting through trash, GM learned what exactly was being thrown out, then began cataloguing everything and figuring out how all of it—every single last piece—could be diverted from landfill. Part of it is educating people as to what can be recycled and where they should put it; part of it is amassing and effectively distributing containers throughout the complex; not to mention collecting and emptying those containers, then processing the contents.
Well, last week GM announced they've actually pulled it off. Every single thing coming out of the Renaissance Center is now recycled, reused or converted into energy, with not a scrap going into landfill. All paper is turned into cereal boxes and tissues; cans and bottles are given to a nonprofit, who uses the deposit money to help fund youth outreach programs; cardboard, plastic and batteries are all collected by organizations specializing in their recycling.
"This is a significant achievement considering all the waste from workers, shoppers, diners and hotel guests—ranging from half-eaten hamburgers to used mattresses—that will not end up in a landfill," said Mike Robinson, GM vice president of Sustainability and Global Regulatory Affairs. "By working together, we reduce our footprint while helping build a greener economy and a greener Detroit."
...The Renaissance Center now recycles 49% of its total waste, an improvement of 127 percent since the drive to landfill-free began in 2011. The remaining waste, including food scraps and used containers, is converted to energy through a facility located a few blocks away; creating renewable energy that powers other Detroit businesses.
Even more encouraging is that the Renaissance Center is not GM's first landfill-free facility. It is their 110th!