GREENSBORO If you buy a GM car, you may be helping the beleaguered town of Flint, Mich., solve a side effect of its water disaster.
In 2014, when the water there became tainted with lead and undrinkable, its residents turned toward bottled water.
The water was a godsend — but not the millions of plastic bottles that threatened to overwhelm recycling centers and landfills.
Enter GM, which came up with a nifty way to use a Greensboro company’s advanced recycling technology and help out a neighbor clear out its, um, bottleneck.
Greensboro-based Unifi Manufacturing is recycling those bottles into polymer chips at its Reidsville and Yadkinville
plants. Those chips are being turned into car parts and air filters for GM.
In the process, they’re making a round trip through a textile industry that is changing to survive.
Unifi knows a little something about reinvention. It’s a textile company that has thrived in a tough marketplace by creating innovative yarns made from plastic bottles under the Repreve brand name. The yarn has become such a success that other companies are licensing the name to make other products from the polymer that Unifi creates at its recycling plants.
A GM project manager knew the company had already been using other Repreve products and he thought Unifi might be the key to putting Flint’s excess bottles on the road — in thousands of vehicles.
So the automaker contacted Unifi in 2015 and worked out a plan to gather the bottles — 2 million, so far — for Unifi to transport to North Carolina for the recycling process.
In the end, several companies are converting the bottles into sound-dampening material to go under the hood and in the wheel wells of Chevrolet Equinox vehicles and into industrial air filters for towers like GM’s Renaissance Center in Detroit.
Those bottles make a round trip from…