“Keep working on it.”

The BMW Group produces 760,000 metric tons of waste per year, of which 99% is recycled and recovered. So it may look like the goal has been achieved. But there is still a lot for the waste management experts to do.

With its annual production of almost 2.5 million vehicles, the BMW Group generates more than 760,000 metric tons of waste per year. This waste is almost completely recycled and recovered. More specifically: at a rate of 99%! “100% would not be realistic”, says Frank Lippoldt, waste management expert in the BMW Group’s strategic planning team. There are some interesting reasons for this.

We discussed this complex and knotty topic with Frank Lippoldt.

The BMW Group recycles 99% of its waste – that sounds pretty good!

Frank Lippoldt: We are quite proud of that. We have been working on the issue of waste for a long time. As early as 2008, all of our newly registered vehicles were 95% recyclable – and therefore complied with the strict EU legal requirements that did not come into force until 2015.

Why do you have such a strong focus on recycling?

We do not regard our end-of-life vehicles or the residual materials in our production facilities as waste to be disposed of, but as a source of secondary raw materials. Residual materials such as steel, which are left over from car body construction, are melted down directly. In other words, in Leipzig, the truck that supplies our production facilities with steel then turns around and takes the scrap from the pressing plant back to the steel mill in Salzgitter.

And is this the same at all the other BMW Group locations worldwide?

The local infrastructure and conditions are different all over the world. So we have found many successful ways to recycle residual materials over the years. In China, for example, foundry sand is used for the production of concrete. In Africa, we have made backpacks out of plastic waste for the children at a local school, and in Brazil, old wooden pallets are being made into new pallets. Our waste management experts look at every possible solution, so that these ideas can be transferred to other locations.

What about new technologies?

These are always a key driver to enable conservation of resources and environmentally friendly production. In Munich, for example, we opened a new high-tech paint plant in 2017, where two coats of paint can be applied one after the other without any drying in between. This saves electricity, gas and water and generates less waste. As a general rule, the more modern the plant, the more sustainable the production methods. The plant in Mexico, which is currently under construction, will be the most resource-efficient plant in the BMW Group by 2020.

It’s probably not only good for the environment...

That’s right. Our investments in operational environmental protection have led to a continuous reduction in our resource consumption, so since 2006 this has saved us more than €161 million.

Why is 100% recycling of waste unrealistic? Surely the remaining 1% is manageable?

One reason is that the new materials used in the vehicles continually present our experts with new challenges. Currently this includes fibre-reinforced composites and waste from the foundry, as well as raw materials such as cobalt, which are needed for the batteries in electric vehicles. The aim is for these materials to be 100% recycled, too. There is still plenty of room here for interesting new technologies.

And the other reasons?

Regional differences in legislation and disposal infrastructure mean that our waste management experts need to continually come up with alternative solutions. To give just one example, there is neither a pressing plant nor an incineration plant near the Rosslyn plant in South Africa. So what should we do in this case? Transporting the remaining materials back to Germany would make little sense from an environmental or economic point of view.

So where to from here?

We work together with around 500 external waste disposal companies and suppliers worldwide. The only issue is that environmental awareness is not yet equally advanced in all countries. This is why, as well as training our employees, we also train our suppliers, in order to create awareness and enable local people to benefit from our experience in waste management. Our goal is to increase sustainability in the supply chain in order to have a positive impact on environmental standards in other countries. However, we still have a lot of work to do here.