Hiromichi Ishii, Director of Eco-R Japan, a total automobile recycle solution company speaks to Auto Recycling World about the company’s success in Japan, their development of an innovative ELV recycling system and the benefits it could bring to the industry.
How Eco-R began, and its scale in Japan
My father founded the company in 1964. However, it was my grandfather who gave him the idea. At the time, there was a romantic novel called “Ponkotsu”, which was serialised in a newspaper. The story is about a young man who works in a car dismantling business (known as a “ponkotsu” shop) and a young woman who is a university student. The story is set in the 1950s, against the backdrop of the traffic war, the rapid increase in the number of female university students, and the shadow of war.
My grandfather, who enjoyed reading the story, said that Japan is definitely going to be a car society in the future. If there are people who make cars, there will always be people who have to deal with them. You don’t have the money or the ability to make cars. But you can recycle, can’t you? So my grandfather suggested to my father, and together with his three brothers, they founded Ishii Auto Dismantling, the forerunner of Eco-R.
The current size of the Japanese car industry is approximately 80 million cars, 5 million new cars are sold each year, and the number of scrapped cars is approximately 3.3 million annually. Eco-R employs 130 people and our processing target is 100 cars per day, but right now our ability is 80-90 cars per day.
Eco-R’s philosophy regarding ELVs and its success
In order to continue and develop the car recycling business, the key is the ability to purchase. And what supports this purchasing power is the strength of the workplace. One of the key points to support a strong field force is how to have profitable and continuous transactions with leading customers in Japan and abroad. We also need to acquire new customers.
The key to a profitable and sustainable business relationship is contractual and compliance. Contracts and compliance are supported by competent employees. In order to attract and retain talented employees, you need to have a strong internal organisation, a well-managed factory, good hygiene and a good benefits system.
What is the source of all this? It is the sales and profits we receive from our customers. In order to make a fair profit, we have to provide a better service than our competitors, ensure quality, meet deadlines, and eliminate waste and dangerous areas in our factories. Our 6S activities (S for Safety and 5S for Seiri, Seiso, Seiton, Seiketsu, Seiketsu and Shitsuke) support these business activities.
At the root of it all is our management philosophy and corporate culture. We are living in a world where it is no longer possible to do the basic things that we take for granted, but we must not change the common sense that is universally unchanged, the basic common sense of living as a human being, such as not causing trouble to others, doing what pleases others, and contributing to society.
On the other hand, the common sense that needs to be changed is to respond quickly to the daily changes in common sense. It is important to reflect on whether you are still working in the same old way and to study and act accordingly.
Construction of new ELV dismantling process requires necessary ministerial approval
We have developed an all-usage press that utilises a biaxial pretreatment system (A-presses are thoroughly cleaned of wiring harnesses and motors so that the copper content is within 0.3%. It is a revolutionary way of shortening the process of making a fully utilized press (no ASR is generated as the pressed material is delivered directly to the electric furnace manufacturer).
The removal of copper components takes a lot of time and effort. Particularly in modern minivans (Alfords and Elgrands), as there are many wiring harnesses and motors in the electric seats, sliding doors and large dashboards. It would be difficult for one man to collect all of these by hand, even if it took him a whole day to do so.
However, using the biaxial pre-treatment system and the Nibra car dismantling machine, it makes it possible to recover the material efficiently and quickly. However, there is no precedent for car dismantlers to use biaxial pretreatment equipment in Japan. In order to install this equipment, it was necessary to consult with the prefectural and national governments and obtain permission in advance. Initially, the government refused to allow our company to install this equipment. At first, the state refused to install this device in our company because if it was misused, it would induce illegal dumping. To explain, the body is put directly into this biaxial pre-treatment unit and separated into ferrous/non-ferrous and waste. The ferrous and non-ferrous parts can be sold at a higher price, and the waste could be dumped in the mountains instead of being taken to a recycling facility. We know that the government will not allow us to do this, but once they recognise this example, others in our industry will want to install the biaxial pre-treatment system. That’s why we have raised the bar regarding ministerial approval to ensure that if other companies use this system, it will not be possible for them to dump waste illegally.
Accounting for missing used cars in Japan
It is estimated that around 1.5 million used cars are currently exported from Japan each year. However, this figure is based on vehicles valued at over 200,000 yen, so the reality is that many more used cars are being exported. Unfortunately, many vehicles are also stolen on a daily basis.
With the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the circular economy and carbon neutrality in the spotlight, we are on the verge of a new decarbonisation era. On the other hand, many petrol cars and diesel trucks are exported to emerging countries every year. There is a market for these vehicles because there are people who need them, and there is nothing we can do to stop this. However, when these vehicles reach the end of their useful life, they will need to be recycled. Proper disposal is the need of the hour.
Car recycling and public awareness
Unfortunately, the awareness of car recycling is still low. However, we at Eco-R have been running a used tyre shop for over 20 years. In the beginning, we only sold used tyres, but now we cover all aspects of the automotive aftermarket, including repairs with used parts, sheet metal painting, vehicle inspections, accessories sales and used car sales.
We have a lot of end-users every day. We also use social networking to promote our company.
What does Eco-R’s see as the future of car recycling?
I don’t think that car recycling itself will disappear, but I think that the sales and profit structure of the car recycling industry will change. What is valuable now will become less so, and what is not valuable now will become more so. The decarbonisation movement will accelerate the shift to EVs, and we should start looking for and researching battery and motor-related businesses to prepare for the EV era. Recycled materials are becoming more and more important. The importance of recycled materials will continue to grow, as manufacturers will need to use recycled materials in their products in order to decarbonise.
I believe that the key to the future will be technological innovation and the creation of a system that enables precise dismantling without the need for a lot of work.
To find out more about Eco-R, please visit www.eco-r.jp