Frame of a car on blue floor at Ford Rouge Manufacturing Complex.

In a midsized city in southeast Michigan, Ford Motor Company recently celebrated a unique birthday, and didn’t waste any cake.

Ford Rouge is a six-facility complex operated by the Ford Motor Company, and generates 8 million pounds of production waste per year that they need to manage. Last year the site turned 100 years old, and took another look at its most significant waste streams: treatment sludge, open-top dumpster waste, grinding wastes and street sweepings. All of it was ending up in a landfill.

So, they set an ambitious goal of Zero Waste to Landfill (ZWTLF) across its 16-million-square-foot facility, eliminating their dependence on landfills altogether.

History in the Car-Making

Ford Rouge houses 7,000 employees who are driving (literally) the most innovative designs of today’s car and truck industry. The factory hosts guided tours six days a week that demonstrate their vision of “ore to assembly” auto plants dating back to the company’s founding in 1903.

The plant has also been pursuing efficient methods of waste management since 2003 — sorting and transporting recyclables, managing drum-contained waste and overseeing related packaging processes for offsite shipment. But leaving the landfill is another matter entirely.

Reinventing Recycling

Because each of Ford Rouge’s six sites follows its own manufacturing process, they confront somewhat differing waste streams. Communication between Ford and its associated hauling services is just as tough to coordinate. To that end, Ford worked with Veolia to develop a landfill-diversion strategy for each facility, incorporating new equipment and changing their recyclable sorting criteria to comply with local waste-to-energy initiatives. This includes their existing cardboard recycling practice, which collects hundreds of tons of cardboard per week.

Their disposal programs extended to Ontario, Canada.

Circular Manufacturing

New balers and drum container rotators helped them better organize their refuse, but they accompany a number of other investments by Ford on the road to upholding ZWTLF status and furthering its energy efficiency. Solar compactors, for example, help them qualify for local biomass programs while limiting its power consumption at the same time.

The plant also embraces a closed-loop aluminum recycling system, which reuses up to 20 million pounds of aluminum stamping scrap per month — a true commercial contribution to the circular economy.

As a result of its efforts, Ford Rouge declared itself landfill-free on July 1, 2016, diverting more than 8 million pounds of waste per year (or, in Ford’s words, enough to fill the truck beds of 4,400 F-150s). Ford is a model for sustainable manufacturing in North America, and its Rouge center joins 68 other Ford facilities worldwide that have gone landfill-independent.

Read the case study on this project here.

Image by Nicole Yeary
Share this:

Related News: