October 31, 2006


The Recycling of End-of-Life Vehicles in Japan

Keywords: Newsletter 

JFS Newsletter No.50 (October 2006)

Japan ranks among the top 10 countries in the world in terms of car ownership. As of the end of 2005, there were roughly 75 million four-wheeled vehicles in Japan, or one car for every 1.7 persons, compared to the average of one for every 7.5 persons worldwide. The average years of use in Japan is increasing, at 10.9 years for cars in 2005, and 11.7 years for trucks.

In Japan, roughly five million cars are disposed every year. These end-of-life vehicles (ELVs) are still regarded as useful resources, containing valuable metals and parts. About a million of these are exported as second-hand vehicles, while the remaining four million are sent from automobile retailers to auto dismantlers and scrap metal companies to be processed for reusing and recycling.

In the recycling process, auto dismantlers first recover engine parts, body components and electrical components, which account for about 20 to 30 percent of the weight per used vehicle, to be reused as valuable parts. About 50 to 55 percent of parts (by weight) per vehicle are non-reusable, including some engine components as well as catalysts, non-ferrous metals, and tires; these are recycled as raw materials. On the whole, 75 to 80 percent of parts (by weight) per vehicle are reused or recycled.

Since October 2002, the Law Concerning the Recovery and Destruction of Fluorocarbons requires that fluorocarbons used for car air-conditioners be recovered. Air bags, which have the danger of exploding, are also to be treated properly through a voluntary processing system.

The remaining parts, equivalent to 20 to 25 percent of vehicle weight, used to be shredded and buried as automobile shredder residue (ASR). In recent years, however, there has been a greater need to reduce the volume of ASR, as industrial waste landfill sites are approaching full capacity.

Moreover, there is rising concern that the current recycling system may collapse because most auto dismantlers and shredding companies have been suffering a downturn of their profits due to an upsurge in final disposal fees and a fall in scrap iron prices. It is feared that proper disposal will become more difficult and illegal dumping of used vehicles will increase.

To promote the proper recycling of auto parts, the government enacted the Law for the Recycling of End-of-Life Vehicles (commonly known as Automobile Recycling Law) in January 2005. The law stipulates the roles of auto manufacturers and automobile-related entities in the recycling of used vehicles.

Outline of End-of-Life Vehicle Recycling Law Assuming the use of the existing infrastructure to recycle ELVs, the Law basically aims to (1) deal with ASR, fluorocarbons, and airbags, (2) promote a framework for proper competition, (3) minimize the amount of final waste going into landfills, and (4) prevent the illegal disposal of ELVs.

Car manufacturers and importers (hereafter collectively called automakers) are required to remove fluorocarbons, airbags and ASR from the vehicles they manufacture or import, and properly recycle (destroy in the case of fluorocarbons) them when these vehicles are returned for disposal.

Owners are required to take their ELVs to registered ELV-collecting businesses, which deliver them to registered fluorocarbon-recovery businesses and licensed auto-dismantling businesses. The latter remove airbags and other recyclable items from the vehicles. The remaining vehicle shells are delivered to auto dismantlers and processed into ASR. Authorized automakers receive ASR, collected fluorocarbons and airbags, and pay collection fees.

Participating businesses are authorized by the Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry and the Minister of the Environment, and registered or licensed by prefectural governors.

An Electronic Manifest System (a system to track and manage vehicle information) has been introduced that requires businesses in the various phases of automobile recycling to report to the information management center whenever pertinent transactions are made between them. The system enables integrated management and proper handling of the relevant information.

The fees for recycling are paid by owners of vehicles, generally at the time of purchase. For vehicles purchased prior to the date the law entered into force, fees shall be paid at the first vehicle inspection or when on-premises vehicles (for which neither registration nor official inspection is required) are turned over to ELV-collecting companies. Although the recycling fees are determined and announced by automakers, the government will issue a recommendation or order when fees are considered to be inappropriate. Recycling fees are managed by a third-party fund management institution.

Outcome of the Law
Currently, ELVs are recycled by 85,000 vehicle collecting companies, 22,000 fluorocarbon recovery companies, 5,800 dismantling companies, and 1,200 shredding companies.

Recycling fees depend on the type of vehicle and are the sum of fees for processing fluorocarbons, airbags and ASR, and those for fund management and information handling, amounting to 6,000 to 18,000 yen (about U.S.$51-153).

Japan Automobile Recycling Promotion Center (JARC), established by auto-related industries, is responsible for managing recycling fees as well as the vehicle information tracking and management system. The Center publishes an annual report on its business activities. Aiming to implement an integrated system for fluorocarbon collection and processing, and airbag transaction and recycling, automakers have contributed funds to establish an intermediate corporation called the Japan Auto Recycling Partnership (JARP) that acts as the group's center for recycling activities.

In collecting and recycling ASR, automakers fall into two groups. One group called the TH-team, consisting of Toyota Motor Corp., Honda Motor Co., Ltd. and six other companies, entrusts recycling operations to Toyotsu Recycle Corporation, a subsidiary of Toyota. The other, called the ART-team (Automobile shredder residue Recycle promotion Team), consists of Nissan Motor Co., Isuzu Motors Ltd. and nine other companies. The steering committee of the ART-team makes recycling plans in alliance with some trading companies.

The yearly recycling rates for ASR were set by law at 30 percent in 2005, 50 percent in 2010, and 70 percent in 2015. The recycling rate in fiscal 2005 was 66 percent on average in the ART-team, and 57 percent and 60 percent in Toyota and Honda of the TH-team, respectively. This means that both groups have already achieved the 2010 target.

In regard to ASR processing, a system has already been developed that put the ASR through a gasification melting furnace at high temperatures, recycles solid residue and utilizes the waste heat to improve the recycling rate. The JFS website describes an example of one of these.

Let us look at recycling of tires. According to the Japan Automobile Tyre Manufacturers Association, of 1,022,000 tons of scrap tires in 2005, 373,000 tons were exported, reused as retread tire casings, or recycled into rubber material or rubber crumb, and 524,000 tons were used in thermal recycling processes such as metal refining, cement calcination, and power generation.

Each Member's Activities
In 1997, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry (formerly the Ministry of International Trade and Industry) established the End-of-Life Vehicle Recycling Initiative, which has set a quantitative target of at least 95 percent for the effective recycling rate in 2015. This rate indicates the percentage of the weight of recycled parts against the total weight of the ELVs.

Aiming to achieve this target, each automaker is making efforts to create recycling-oriented vehicles, right from the vehicle design phase. Regarding the structure of the vehicle, for example, the number of parts and joints are reduced in order to facilitate dismantling, thereby reducing the amount of ASR created and shortening the time required to dismantle vehicles and recover parts.

Regarding the materials used in vehicles, automakers are choosing those that can be more easily recycled. Resin materials are being replaced with highly recyclable olefin resins such as polypropylene and polyethylene. Furthermore, they try to standardize the materials they use, clearly indicate what they are, and use parts made of recycled materials.

Based on the results of these efforts, Nissan announced that it has achieved 95 percent of the target recycling rate in producing the March and Note models. Each manufacturer is working on improving its recycling rate so actively that it is expected the target rate will be achieved for all models at an early date.

Challenges for Future
Eighteen months after the ELV Recycling Law was enacted, about 3,050,000 ELVs were reportedly collected in fiscal 2005 under the Automobile Manifest System, representing a dramatic reduction from the previous 4 million. This is probably due to a significant increase in the number of used cars being exported and disposed as well as changes in the distribution channels of ELVs, which may have resulted from the enactment of the law.

Automobile industries must respond appropriately to the new situation created by the enactment of the law while promoting proper and sustainable recycling. At the same time they must think about sustainable mobility and their role in it.

(Staff Writer Kiyoshi Koshiba)