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Japanese Automobile Recycling Law

1) Introduction

The Automobile Recycling Law, promulgated in July 2002 and put into effect in April 2005, stipulates that every end-of-life vehicle (ELV) must be dismantled and recycled in an eco-friendly manner. Since the implementation of the law there have been numerous changes in our industry, such as the obligation for every company to be granted permission by their prefectural governor to dismantle or shred ELVs.

2) Why was the Automobile Recycling Law created?

There are two main reasons why the Automobile Recycling Law was created: (1) stricter European Union regulations regarding automobile recycling and (2) the 'Te-shima incident'.
Serious talks about the disposal of ELVs began in Europe in the late 1980's led primarily by Germany. By 1990, a resolution was formed by the European Council that measures relevant to ELVs must be consolidated on an EC level. This discussion began because shredder residues from one landfill site were carried by the wind across country borders in Europe causing a community wide problem. By the mid 1990's companies such as Mercedes Benz and BMW began researching and incorporating the idea of recyclability in their current models. In 2000 a directive was passed by the EU regarding the treatment of end-of-life vehicles. All companies, domestic and foreign, manufacturing and or selling automobiles in the EU were made to follow and comply with the guidelines stated in the directive.
The 'Te-shima incident' was an incident where one industrial waste disposal company burnt and illegally disposed 500,000 tons worth of ELV shredder residue on the Te-shima, a small island in Seto Island sea, between the late 1970 and 1991. Shredder residue is composed of materials shredded from car seats, bumpers, glass and other non-metallic components of the car. It contains hazardous chemicals including dioxins, which in the case of Te-shima contaminated the Seto Island Sea. When a small-sized car with 1,500cc engine is dismantled, about 200kg of shredder residue is generated. 500,000 tons of shredder residue correlates to approximately 2.5million ELVs. Considering that in the year 2008 Japan as a whole produced under 3.58 million ELVs, the immensity of illegally disposed shredder dust in Te-shima can be seen. Efforts to relocate and refine the shredder residue in Te-shima have been in action at a nonferrous metal refining factory in Naoshima Island, a neighbor island since 2002. However, it is estimated to take up until 2016 for the refinement to be fully complete.
In June 1995, prompted by the 'Te-shima incident,' the Japanese government implemented the Guideline for Pre-shredder Disassembling Automobiles and Electronic Device. This national guideline made it obligatory for all ELV batteries, engine oil, fuel and other liquids to be extracted from the vehicle before it could be treated by a professional waste disposal company. In April of the following year, the government added that all shredder residues were to be disposed of in a controlled landfill. A controlled landfill is a landfill where a vinyl sheet is used as a lining before the waste can be put in the landfill, to block hazardous leakage, and that is controlled by a permit system in compliance with the national legislation. In December 1998 the guideline was further revised to add that all ELVs undergoing dismantling were to be logged on paper manifest. The rules regarding ELVs became more stringent until April, 2005 when the finalized and comprehensive Automobile Recycling Law came into effect.

3) What does the Automobile Recycling Law say?

The main aim of the Automobile Recycling Law is to reduce waste production and increase the amount of reused and recycled material by requiring auto makers, dealers, dismantlers and other involved parties to play their part in the nationwide recycling system. The required roles of the involved parties are as below:
Involved Party Role
The final owner of the ELV 1) Pay the recycling fee
2) Deliver the vehicle to an ELV collector
ELV collector
(includes new or second hand car dealers and auto repair shops)
1) Collect the ELV from the final owner
2) Deliver the ELV to either a fluorocarbon recovery operator or dismantler
Fluorocarbon Operator 1) Collect fluorocarbon from the ELV
2) Deliver the ELV to an auto-manufacturer/ importer
Dismantler 1) Make airbags harmless and collect
2) Dismantle the ELV according to national legislation
3) Deliver shredder residue (from ELV carcass) to an auto-manufacturer/ importer
Auto-manufacturer/ importer 1) Collect fluorocarbon, airbags and shredder residue and dispose or recycle accordingly
One of the distinguishing characteristics of the Japanese ELV recycling system is its IT Manifesto. The IT Manifesto is a computer governed system that tracks the passage of every End-of-Life Vehicle in Japan. As of March 2009, there were 103,246 ELV recycling related companies registered nationwide including 77,635 ELV collectors and 17,623 fluorocarbon operators and 6,689 dismantlers and 1,299 shredding operators. Dismantlers and Shredding operators are obligated by law to receive a permit from their local municipal office, while ELV collectors and fluorocarbon operators are to be noticed. The ELV Flow Chart

4) Characteristics of the Japanese ELV recycling system

As mentioned in 2), the creation of the Japanese Automobile Recycling Law was influenced heavily by European system.
There are however a couple of key differences between the two systems. The first difference is in Japan every vehicle owner is obligated to pay the recycling fee in advance and second, the Japanese system relies on 'manufacturer responsibility.' 'Extended Product Liability' is simply the idea that the manufacturer of the vehicle is responsible for disposal and dismantling of the vehicle in a way that does not harm the environment. Under the new legislation, the vehicle manufacturer is responsible of disposing three products from an ELV that are difficult to dispose of in an environmentally friendly and economic manner.
recycle The three are the following;
  1. Auto Shredding Residues - a pollutant in the Te-shima incident
  2. Fluorocarbons - depletes the ozone layer
  3. Airbags - contains harmful chemicals but after proper treatment can be recycled/ reprocessed
When the Automobile Recycling Law was still in its preliminary stages, there was much debate over whether the recycling fee should be paid in advance upon purchase or at the end directly before dismantling began. It was decided that the advance payment method was favorable and conducive to reducing the number of illegally disposal of ELVs. Upon payment the car registration number, recycling fee and payment confirmation is sent via the IT Manifest system to Recycling Fund Management Center. When the vehicle reaches the end of its life, the separate steps of its disposal is tracked and the appropriate companies are paid. The recycling fee for every model is different and is determined by the manufacturer in accordance with original design and materials used.

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