Natural resources, materials and waste management
The GF environmental strategy embraces the principles of a circular economy and all major steps of the product life cycle.
GF takes a holistic approach to managing the environmental impacts of its operations. Its environmental strategy embraces the principles of a circular economy and all major steps of the product life cycle. These include the selection of raw materials in the design phase, conserving natural resources during manufacturing, recovering scrap or waste materials, and responsibly disposing of or recycling products at the end of their life cycle.
GF actively works to preserve resources through various steps. Firstly, it continually seeks new and effective ways to reuse or recycle the materials it uses in its manufacturing processes. Secondly, it fosters partnerships with other industrial companies to reuse scraps, by-products and waste materials from its production processes, reducing the overall demand for energy and resources. Finally, although most of GF’s waste is non-hazardous, it ensures there are reliable systems and processes in place to reduce the environmental impact of the waste it generates.
Progress in 2022
GF recycles the majority (78%) of its waste. In addition, some divisions sold their waste material in 2022. GF Piping Systems sold over 600 t of used sand and GF Casting Solutions provided its construction industry partners with around 8’000 t of used core sand. This generates additional income and reaffirms the value of a circular economy approach.
Unrecycled waste intensity index
(unrecycled waste per production volume) in %
Unrecycled waste intensity index
In 2022, GF’s unrecycled waste intensity was 34 percentage points below its target value for the year. Therefore, the company is currently on track to meet its target at the end of 2025. This achievement was mainly due to sand recycling at the GF Casting Solutions site in Leipzig (Germany) and the GF Piping Systems site in Sissach (Switzerland).
In addition, recycling programs at GF Piping Systems’ facilities in Switzerland, Turkey and the US also contributed to the target. The division’s US recycling program includes the external regrind of all high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which can be used in production as reworked material.
Actions for effective use of natural resources
All three GF divisions continued their efforts throughout the year to reduce, reuse and recycle their natural resources more effectively.
In March 2022, the GF Casting Solutions site in Altenmarkt (Austria) upgraded its wastewater treatment systems by installing two new vacuum evaporators. As a result, the site now only disposes of a very small amount of concentrated wastewater sludge (5% of total volume) through a certified disposal company. The site forwards the rest of its wastewater directly to a local purification plant.
Overall, the vacuum evaporators have significantly upgraded the site’s ability to reuse natural resources and reduce its waste and CO2e emissions. Through this latest project, Altenmarkt's recycling rate is now above 94%.
GF Piping Systems joined Operation Clean Sweep® (OCS) to prevent plastic litter from entering the environment, taking the division a step closer to its goal of "zero pellet loss" to protect the environment and waterways. OCS is an international initiative to prevent the loss of plastic granules (such as pellets, flakes and powders) along the entire plastics value chain. Working with this initiative, the division is incorporating a few small but important changes in its facilities management and operations to prevent plastic granules from being released into the environment. In a first phase, the division is rolling out the program in its European plastic processing plants and aims to gradually implement it worldwide, even in areas that have local alternatives.
To engage its employees in this area, GF Piping Systems apprentices at GF JRG in Sissach (Switzerland) spent an afternoon learning how to manage and reduce waste under the motto "No Time to WASTE". After a short introduction, the apprentices collected litter from around the site – mostly cigarette ends – and learned about how the company disposes of waste. The division's apprentices then visited a local bulk goods shop, where consumers can bring their own containers for unpackaged food and non-food items and reduce or eliminate the need for plastic packaging. Finally, back at their site, the apprentices created a poster and shared their thoughts and experiences with vocational trainers.
Re-using activated carbon
At GF Piping Systems, the GF JRG site in Sissach initiated its first process to reactivate (reuse) activated carbon, a material that filters pollutants out of the air in the foundry. While the site previously disposed of its used activated carbon after a designated period of time, the reactivation process allows it to reuse the material.
Using this new process, the site avoids sending around 9 t of waste to landfill each year. This measure contributed to reducing hazardous waste at this site by 20% in 2022 compared with 2021. The site’s overall recycling rate is 86%.
Recycling waste sand
Waste sand is produced during casting due to balancing the inflow of sand from cores, sand blasting and sieving, over-burning and contamination. In 2022, as part of a new concept, GF Piping Systems found a top-tier copper producing and recycling company that will buy the company's used sand and recycle it, preserving an increasingly rare natural resource. Overall, the plant is now recycling 87% of its total waste amount, continuing the adoption of circularity principles in its iron foundry business. The site already uses a high proportion of recycled material (over 80% of iron scrap). All of its raw waste material is either re-melted and reused on-site or provided to partners and included in new ingots.
Reusing other materials
GF Machining Solutions has implemented a "No Material Waste" program, in which employees can upload, to the division's intranet, pictures of functioning but unused material. The project started after two apprentices in Biel/Bienne (Switzerland) noticed usable material lying around unused or being thrown away. They developed the idea of creating an online platform where people can upload their unused materials so that those who need them can access them.
To this end, the apprentices submitted a proposal to the division's intrapreneurship program "Kickbox". The aim of this program is to tap into the intrapreneurship of employees to come up with new ideas that may lead to technical innovations or new business models. The "No Material Waste" program has since moved from the validation to the pilot phase, with the aim of testing a working prototype in Biel/Bienne, before moving into the final implementation phase. At the end of 2022, computer screens topped the list of the most-exchanged products on the platform.
Circular economy initiatives
For GF, a circular economy aims to keep materials and resources in the product cycle for as long as possible, by reusing, refurbishing and re-manufacturing them before recycling. Throughout the year, all three divisions have targeted new initiatives to source reusable materials and components while enhancing their waste management processes to enable reuse.
GF Piping Systems launched a new range of pipes made from reworked polyvinylidene difluoride (PVDF) material instead of virgin PVDF. With this new product line, high-value reworked production material is used to create new high-value products instead of being sold to a recycling partner. By using the material more efficiently, the division is reducing waste and applying the circular economy principle in more of its product lines.
The division also conducted its first workshops with external partners to identify opportunities to apply the "cradle-to-cradle" principle to its solutions. According to this principle, products are designed in such a way that they can be reused or recycled beyond their first life cycle, so that they do not end up in incineration or landfill. The division sees this principle as an effective way to create more circular economy-based solutions in the future.
The GF Piping Systems site in Shawnee, OK (US) has increased its use of reworked material (both external and production scrap) into products where the design allows. As a result, by the end of 2022, the site had increased its total recycling rate to 80%, up from 75% in 2021.
GF Casting Solutions' products are made from secondary aluminum or iron scrap, whenever customer specifications allow. Iron casting uses over 80% scrap, which is melted down into high-quality alloys directly in the division's foundries. Aluminum products that are not structural parts (required to withstand high forces during a vehicle’s use phase) are cast in secondary alloys made of up to 80% recycled content.
After successfully implementing the sustainability radar into its R&D processes, GF Machining Solutions can today assess the sustainability performance of new machines during the R&D phase. Subsequently, the division can use that assessment to identify ways to improve the circularity characteristics of its machines during the planning phase, for example, by increasing the number of parts and spare parts that are recycled and recyclable.
The division has started recycling its electrical discharge machining (EDM) spools and wires at selected sites. The EDM spools are recycled into new spools (combined with a variable amount of virgin material), and it supplies used EDM wires to a partner company that produces faucets using the raw material. In 2022, the division extended its offer to 30 of its customers across Belgium, Germany and Italy to recycle their used wire. In addition, European customers now have the option to source EDM wires locally, which reduces transportation – and thus their carbon footprint by 15%.