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Auto Recycling Japan – What are the challenges and differences in this sector?

Auto Recycling World asks Dr Kenichi Togawa, Professor at Kumamoto University in Japan, with the aid of Yoko Yoshida from Metal Solution Provider Co., Ltd., about his opinion on auto recycling in Japan, whether the processes there differ from other countries and what’s their stance on EV recycling – Is Japan ready?

 

Auto Recycling Japan - What are the challenges and differences in this sector? p
Yoko Yoshida and Dr Kenichi Togawa

It seems that Japan has a unique place in auto recycling. We asked Dr Togawa to provide a brief overview of the auto recycling industry in Japan and to give some examples of how Japan differs from other countries. He said that Japan’s car recycling system is affected by the EU’s ELV directive, but the most significant difference is how to treat ASR.

From 1975 to 1990, a large amount of industrial waste was illegally dumped on a remote scenic island in Japan, and among this waste was ASR. To control waste disposal, the Japanese government has imposed the recycling of automotive shredder residue (ASR) on automakers since 2005 and all dismantlers have been instructed to register a national electronic manifest system. Recycling fees were mandated for all automotive users to financially support the system. This manifest system records the recycling processes of ASR, chlorofluorocarbon, and airbags. As a result, the highest level of recycling rates has been achieved, but it costs a lot of money and manpower.

Cost-effectiveness is questionable and sometimes criticized by Europe and the United States. Also, this system can be realized only with cooperation by large-sized domestic auto manufacturers. In other words, without domestic large car makers who can directly discuss with decision-makers, it is very difficult to build such a complex and expensive system.

There is an impression that legislation is highly controlled in Japan and that the auto recycling community works closely with the government. And it can be described that most countries have stringent rules for vehicle recycling, but the reality is very different, with many auto recyclers throughout the globe competing with illegal operators. Therefore, does Japan have similar issues regarding illegal operations, or are there other challenges that it faces? Dr Togawa said that an electronic manifest successfully kicked out illegal operators who did not pay taxes. Also, unlike other countries where border control is almost impossible, Japanese geographical characteristics make it more challenging for foreigners to enter Japan without a qualified purpose.

For the last five years, some certified dismantlers near the Tokyo area have leased their business license to others, but it hasn’t been a big problem because their operations are very limited. This situation has been gradually achieved by continuous clampdowns since the law enforcement 15 years ago. Sometimes police chase criminals by helicopter in a broader area.

He believes that the most important thing about establishing the Japanese system is that automobile recycling companies have been socially recognized. Until then, this industry had been subjected to social discrimination (many were Korean living in Japan.) However, with the rise in environmental awareness and the law’s enactment, social discrimination has become somewhat lost. Dismantlers are very proud of being an important part of society and being essential workers.

We asked Dr Togawa whether import and export play a significant role for vehicle recyclers in Japan and whether there is an internal demand for second-hand parts. To this, he said that around one-third of used vehicles are exported as they are but, on the other hand, the import of used cars is very limited in volume. He said that the used parts market in Japan is small because auto manufacturers encourage genuine products and consumers prefer it.

Taiwanese semi-genuine parts are relatively popular among those who do not want to spend a lot of money on repairs. Most used parts are sold overseas because there is always a strong demand for Japanese used parts in the international market. Due to the market size, it’s easier to find a used part outside Japan, so some parts are imported again for domestic consumption.

And although Japanese recyclers have hubs around the world, including Dubai (UAE), Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), Iquique (Chile) and Vladivostok (Russia), to name a few, he feels that Pakistani and Chinese buyers are leading both the used car industry and the used parts industry. Dr Togawa also added that in Japan, although it is not directly related to the export of used parts, the spread of automobile dismantling machines and press machines have rapidly progressed in the last 20 years. For example, a specialized nibbler is used to dismantle different types of cars and it becomes new exporting goods.

Referring to green parts and if there is any public awareness towards reused parts, Dr Togawa told us that he hasn’t realized any public awareness so far and there are no effects on customers’ decisions.

In the 1990s, when he began studying this kind of research, Nissan sold used parts called Green Parts, and Honda started selling rebuilt parts called Reman Parts, but it was not a success. University researchers once calculated the life cycle assessment (LCA) for carbon dioxide reduction through the use of second-hand automotive parts, but the results were controversial as the way of calculation could differ in a wide range.

With the world seemingly moving toward EVs, we asked what preparations are being made in Japan for recycling them and whether they are prepared. He said auto manufacturers just instruct how to safely remove batteries and send back those batteries to them. Almost all used EVs are exported, mainly to New Zealand. He told us that this problem has been recognized in Japan over the past 20 years, yet the Ministry of the Environment said that with exported used cars, there was no choice but to hope that they would be properly managed in light of the local governance. However, the exporting of used EVs won’t grow unless batteries have a longer life and the difference in charging is solved. In the long run, the number of EVs dismantled in Japan will increase and the total volume of work will remain at a similar level with today.

Finally, in Dr Togawa’s opinion, in the future, advances in autonomous driving and the introduction of new materials will make cars less fragile, and car-sharing is expected to progress considerably.  EVs will progress to some extent, and demand for used parts will decrease sharply. But Japanese recyclers will continue to explore new business models.

If you would like to get in touch with Dr Togawa, please email him at togaw@kumamoto-u.ac.jp

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