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GM’s Volt battery covers protect endangered ducks from tigers in China

merganser baby jumping

Half a world away GM’s Volt battery cover is protecting endangered ducks from tigers in East Asia.

John Bradburn

John Bradburn

Through the efforts of GM’s Global Manager of Waste Reduction John Bradburn, the estimated scant 2,200 breeding pairs of Scaly-sided Merganser (the duck species) may have a chance to survive thanks to nesting box made from the Volt’s battery cover. This duck with a feathered mohawk needs the extra protection because of the declining number of trees old enough to provide natural cavities for nesting. This duck has been around a long time. Its history dates back millions of years.

Bradburn first came to know about the birds’ plight in Austin, Texas, while attending U.S. Business Council for Sustainable Development. There he met Ward Hagemeijer, manager of the non-profit Wetlands International. The meeting seemed to be an act of providence. GM already had a history of repurposing parts for wildlife like bats, bluebirds, and woodland ducks on private, public, and GM land here in the US.

Merganser hen in Chevy Volt box

Merganser hen in Chevy Volt box

The encounter was only the beginning. Like the other animal outreach, this project used the T-shaped Volt battery. Due to GM’s landfill-free policy, throwing away parts with imperfections is greatly discouraged and repurposing is preferable to recycling so they often look for new uses. GM now has 122 facilities that send zero waste to landfills.

“My job is to find reuse and recycling solutions for our manufacturing byproducts,” said Bradburn, who received the 2015 President’s Volunteer Service Award for a lifetime of service and was recognized by President Obama for making a difference in the community. He is a globally recognized recycling expert and has been dubbed GM’s MacGyver for his uncanny knack to devise unconventional uses for everyday waste.

“I grew up enjoying waterfowl and built many nest boxes in my youth,” he said. “Once I saw the Chevy Volt battery cover in our plant I knew it would make a good nest box. To test the idea five years ago, I built a prototype and within two weeks, I had a Hooded Merganser hen nesting in it.”

WebThe shape of the battery cover works well for repurposing in the animal kingdom, though it sometimes takes reworking. In the case of the Scaly-sided Merganser, for instance, the covers had to be made deeper and an extra hole had to be added to prevent the area’s tigers from finding the endangered fowl.

Bradburn worked with Diana Solovyeva, the Wetlands International’s regional coordinator for North Asia and expert on the endangered species, on the project. After many lengthy overseas conversations, she met Bradburn on his farm, where he builds and tests many of his reuse innovations, to find the best way to use the battery covers.

Once the modified covers were finished, 10 were sent to China to aid the water fowl. Once in Asia, the China office of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was contacted to help install the boxes in the natural habitat of the Scaly-sided Merganser in the Chinghai Mountain National Nature Reserve.

“If we do not take action to protect this species and their habitats, they will disappear in the next five to 10 years,” said Peiqi Liu, manager of WWF China’s Flyway program.

Merganser nesting boxes lined up

Merganser nesting boxes lined up

After only three months, 11 new chicks were born. The GM team was sent emails filled with pictures of the new chicks and their mothers popping in and out of the nesting boxes. They were overjoyed to see the fruits of their labor as they saw the young ducks playing the nearby pond.

“It was a high point of my life,” Bradburn said.

“The Scaly-sided Merganser is a very beautiful creature,” he said. “I highly admire the work that WWF and Wetlands International is doing to protect them. At GM, we feel honored to be able to help. As someone who loves all wildlife and specifically birds, this has been a special highlight of my life and look forward to being able to help more in the future.”

GM hopes to extend its reuse, repurposing and recycling projects to as many places globally as possible and is looking for possible partners. It is mentoring other companies so they can follow in its steps.

Animals are not the only groups that get aid from GM’s reuse policies. Urban farms in Detroit use 1,300 of its packaging steel baskets.

Bradburn sums up the waste reduction projects as a way to “establish more good or help people realize all things are possible.” He added the importance of finding ways to improve and not to be satisfied.

To learn more about the merganser’s declining habitat and migration pattern disruptions, visit Flyway. 


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