Car and e-scrap recycling: the Chinese experience

In late November, more than 220 delegates met in China for the World Recycling - Shanghai congress organised by Switzerland-based ICM. Among other issues, the focus fell on latest trends in car and electronics scrap recycling within China itself. Several speakers emphasised that much remains to be done to bring the country into line with standards adopted in other parts of the world.

Tighter controls and the development of a more organised infrastructure should be among the top priorities if China is to make progress on car recycling, according to ShaoHai Long of the China Resources Recycling Association. Possible courses of action suggested by the speaker include the setting-up of central car-crushing centres in heavilypopulated areas and use of economic levers to support recycling activities.

The speaker began his presentation in Shanghai by explaining that his country had become a major motor vehicles producer, with sales of Chinesemade cars approaching 6 million last year and likely to reach 7 million in 2006. Given that a flourishing car recycling sector was therefore of significant economic and environmental importance to China, the government was providing the industry with substantial support both in terms of taxes and finance, according to the speaker.

Regulatory framework

In 2001, China’s State Council identified standards for owners of obsolete cars and for recycling organisations. Also outlined were the duties of those departments charged with the task of monitoring car recycling, as well as the responsibilities of local government. Penalties for those who violated related rules and regulations were also detailed.  That same year, the Public Security Office of the State Council issued a notice which strictly banned the illegal car disassembly and assembly market.  However, such illegal activities still take place in some regions; a ‘considerable’ number of car accidents in China were the result of people driving ‘assembled’ cars, according to Mr Long. He commented: ‘We should work even harder to strengthen legislation and management, actively seeking out recycling and disassembly systems and models which are suitable for China’s socialist market economy.

Low level of investment

In China, there are currently some 356 certified disassembly and recycling companies, according to Mr Long. Some 900 000 cars are being disassembled and recycled each year - equivalent to around 80% of all obsolete cars. The industry provides over 2 million tonnes of steel scrap as well as significant quantities of rubber and plastics.

However, the speaker went on to list a number of problems surrounding the recycling of end-of-life vehicles in China, including: the low level of investment in technology; “backward” facilities and disassembly methods; poor management; and incorrect disposal of harmful materials. Waste oils were generally allowed to pollute the ground while textiles and other waste materials were ‘disposed of at will’.  Many companies were guilty of handling many items - such as accumulators, air conditioning units, air-bags and tyres - in a way which ‘could lead to serious environmental problems’.

In addition to improving companies’ technology and management standards, the state needed to create “a good policy environment” to enhance technological progress and programme standardisation, suggested Mr Long. He argued the case for: improved supervision measures to prevent illegal activities; regional plans designed to create organised recycling and disassembly infrastructures; and the implementation of regulated standards for disassembly and remanufacturing.

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