GM auto plasticsAfter years of testing, car giant GM has begun recycling water bottles into a variety of products.

In an interview, John Bradburn, GM’s global manager of waste reduction, said the company explored incorporating rPET into car components for five years “in order to get it right.”

“There’s a lot of testing as you can imagine, a lot of quality issues that we had to work through and make sure we’re meeting the requirements,” he said.

The company is now working with a long list of partners to collect, bale, process and convert PET bottles into products. Partners on the project include Clean Tech Inc. and Hamtramck Recycling, both of Michigan, and North Carolina-based Unifi, Inc.

Bottles are used to create fabric insulation to cover the engine of the Chevrolet Equinox and to create air filtration components. Bottles are also used to create insulation for coats distributed to homeless people in Detroit, with each coat using around 15 bottles.

In its first year, the project is expected to make use of more than 500,000 bottles, Bradburn said

Going forward, GM is also open to the possibility of consuming plastics recovered from auto shredder residue (ASR), Bradburn noted.

An estimated 1.75 million tons of plastics ends up in the ASR stream each year, but little recycling is occurring in that space because it has been difficult for recycling companies to find a way to pull out plastic material in a cost-effective manner.


“As far as shredder residue, it’s a huge, huge opportunity but it’s also got a lot of challenges,” Bradburn said. “I think it’s one that’s going to get solved because the volume is massive. … It’s going to be solved with technology and science and I see it happening more in the future.”

Bradburn said the company buys millions of pounds of polypropylene, one resin that could conceivably be isolated from the ASR stream.

For now, the company is continuing to explore an increased use for rPET. “We’re already talking to companies and setting up meetings on other articles, other targeted materials, that are made from this,” Bradburn said.