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  • Jun 17, 2021

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Vehicle Scrapping or Recycling? Indian Perspective

In India, the automobile explosion took place when this market was opening up in the 1990s. Prior to 1990 an automobile was like a lifetime investment for an Indian family i.e. one bought never disposed of. This family vehicle was meant for a generation and such they never had a defined shelf lives. However as the vehicles became old, not suitable for family use, there vehicles are sold to people who went on to use them as means of local commercial application or as trainers car in India but never went off the road. Since various RTOs were thought to be important and when computerization of Govt. functions started in late 1980s RTO were left to themselves. Hence accurate quantification of road worthy automobiles always remained a challenge in India. Also the in old manual system of RTOs never took cognizance of vehicles going out of service because of various factors (e.g. accident, technical issues etc.); the available database could not be relied upon. With such a big constraint, when the new Vehicle Scrappage Policy1 was being drafted, the number of vehicles going off the road based on the defined time validity had become a concern. Many studies were conducted to arrive at a figure by many agencies. One of such studies was done in 2016, jointly by Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) and GIZ. Based on their study, they estimated that more than 8.70 Million vehicles reached end-of-life (ELV) status by 2015 & by 2025 the ELV numbers may go up to be nearly 21.80 Million (two-wheelers account for about 80 percent of the total ELVs). In India on average, two billion new vehicles are added annually that spew noxious pollutants and heat-trapping gases throughout their life cycle. At the same time, as the huge number of automobiles is also becoming old and obsolete, they emit more such pollutants.

India has been able to withstand the pressure of global trade in old used vehicles largely because of its domestic policy that does not permit registrations of vehicles that are below the applicable national emissions standards. India also has a strong manufacturing base. However, vehicles change several hands within the domestic market. Growing obsolescence is making smaller cities and towns the dumping ground of these old vehicles in India. There are several complex dimensions associated with old vehicles that require immediate policy attention in India. With a quarter of a billion registered vehicles on Indian roads which are the basic sources of pollution that results in serious damage to the environment. The damage is not only in terms of Air Pollution but there are also other environmental degradations all through the complete life cycle of vehicles. So, it is necessary to monitor and regulate the complete life cycle of Automobiles and then at the end of their useful life, they need to be properly disposed of. The other environmental damages (land & soil degradation, groundwater contamination etc.) are also equally important & as serious as air pollution. While it is well known that many harmful gases (HC, NOx, Sox with PM) are formed as a byproduct IC engine operations which impose serious effect on human health, the other less known issues related to many hazardous materials, chemicals & metals also cause similar or more serious impact on total ecology of human surroundings

To control the release of these harmful exhaust gases into the environment various countries have initiated and implemented different pollution standards for the Automobile manufacturers according to the vehicle type to keep the air quality clean. For example, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the United States government, European Union Research Organization (EURO) in Europe have framed strict rules for vehicles to limit the toxic exhaust emissions releasing into the environment. By taking the EURO emission standard as reference Central Pollution Control Board in India has implemented Bharat emission standards (BS Norms) and it is updating its regulation at regular intervals of time. The introduction time limes of various emission norms in India with the rise of production volumes are shown below:

The graph clearly shows that with exponentially rising production volumes, bringing more & more vehicles on the road, stricter emission norms with quicker up-gradation have also been brought in India, for two reasons – first to avoid degradation of environment & second with an open market scenario, to restrict various automobile MNCs coming to India and dumping their obsolete technologies to make profit from the Indian market. But more importantly, when newer vehicles with better technologies started coming on the road, the time was ripe to bring a set of regulations to remove the older vehicles from the road in a phased manner and hence the current “Vehicle Scrappage Policy 2021” by GOI is a well-timed & a positive step in the right direction. The policy has perfect timing because of three reasons – first for the disposal of older vehicles, which have more toxic pollutants coming out of their old engines and their now obsolete technology, second because of older technologies only these vehicles may be highly unsafe on current roads, expressways and high speed motorways, and thirdly, if numbers of vehicles are not controlled on road by making these old vehicles off-road, traffic-related issues as well air/ land pollution cannot be managed. While GOI controlled the fuel quality, a contributor for ICEV performance, it also promoting alternative fuel automobile technologies based one CNG, Bio, Electric, Hybrid, Hydrogen/ Fuel Cell etc., the new “Vehicle Scrappage Policy” on one side will have positive impact in improving vehicle performance, thus reducing the precious oil import bill, with new technologies coming it, it will also help in reducing environmental pollution as well as it will also provide incentives to people for buying new vehicles post disposal of their obsolete vehicles. However, such recycling policy should be based on the vehicle’s performance rather than its age, as & when it starts performing continuously poor, then it must be disposed of by diverting it to an organized & professional recycling setup, which will pave way for a modern “Vehicle Recycling Industry” which must never be called “Vehicle Scrapping Industry”.

What is the End-of-Life (EOL) for a Vehicle?

Regardless of its age and its weight, a vehicle is mostly made out of about 75% metal, both ferrous and non-ferrous while the remaining 25% of the vehicle weight results from tires, plastic, rubber, plastic, gases, glass, fabrics, fluids such as oil, antifreeze, lubricants, and gasoline/ diesel, as well as various electronic components/ circuitry having heavy, rare/ rare earth metals. When these vehicles reach the end of their useful life or are discarded, if handled & recovered efficiently, many of these items could be salvages and recycled back in the main industry reducing burden on primary industry feeding to automobile industry as well eliminate contamination of environment.

Understanding Vehicle Recycling: Cradle to Cradle

While “scrapping of a vehicle” literally means that old vehicles have reached their EOL or damaged vehicle (accident, natural calamity, or by any other reason) and are not road worthy. Such vehicles are barred by RTO for registration and hence are sold as junk to scrap dealers. Now, vehicles can also become road unworthy because of many other factors e.g. their technology becomes obsolete, their spares parts are not available or they develop some irreparable technical snag etc. Yet unlike any other scrap items, these road unworthy vehicles still are composite and complex amalgamation of various materials, chemical, liquids, gases (many of them could be toxic) which if handled properly can be effectively recovered from the “Scrapped Vehicle” and can be reused. Hence it is important to understand the term “RECYCLING” in the context of vehicles to which the current “Vehicle Scrappage Policy 2021” of GOI refers. “Recycling” can be termed as bringing maximum materials back to the cradle from it all began.

As stated above, an Automobile has a wide & complex range of materials (see picture below) used in its creation which depends upon the make and models and hence as such it is very difficult to generalize them yet Wikipedia (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_auto_parts) gives a general listing of materials uses in any automobile.

Most of these items can be successfully recycled/ refurbished/ reused if handled carefully and can be given a new lease of life so that either they could be reused in the secondary market as spares or could be utilized in some different forms & in different applications. Alternatively, they could be recycled into their basic raw materials and could be a feed to the steel, aluminum, plastic, copper, and brass manufacturing industries. The primary goals of the vehicle recycling industry are to salvage these components from an old and used automobile. Below given chart is an approximate assessment of recyclability of an average automobile.

Plan-Do-Check-Act Cycle for Improving Vehicle Recycling

While we have heard a lot about PDCA in manufacturing, below given applicability of this cycle to work on the recyclability of vehicles during the various stages of its life i.e. from Deign & Development to Manufacturing to Sales & Service and finally to Disposal, as a continual process.

Understanding the Best Practices In Recycling Process:

Broadly, the dismantling process could be summarized as two stage process, in which the first stage process may involve draining out all hazardous fluids & gases, from fuel tanks, transmissions, radiators, and power steering units, HVAC, Airbags etc. Once removed, these liquids, gases & lubricants can be recycled & depending upon the recycling quality they could be used in primary or secondary market. Also some parts like engines, transmissions, doors, bumpers, starters, alternators, water pumps and wiper motors, batteries, catalytic converters, tires, and dashboards, electronics etc. can also be refurbished and/ or recycled so that either they could be used as spares or they could also be converted into new products. Fluids & gases such as engine oil, coolant, gasoline, HVAC Gas and Airbag gas need to be carefully handled to prevent their release and they must be stored in doublewalled tanks and/or secondary containment before being reused or recycled.

Once dismantled, in the second step, the vehicle is sent to a recycler or the shredding facility known as ASR (Automobile Shredder residue) plants. These capital-intensive plants have complex material separation operations. The shredder pulverizes the vehicle into fist-sized pieces of materials, which are then sent by conveyors to sophisticated separation technologies, including magnetic separation, eddy current, laser, and infra-red systems. The metal recovery may include in some cases recovery of rare metals & rare earth metal also. Such recovery plants then become raw material feedstock for steel mills, electric arc furnaces, aluminum, and other non-ferrous metal smelters to manufacture a variety of products, including new vehicles.

Development and Utilization of ASR (Automobile Shredder Residue) Sorting Technology

In order to use ASR completely, it is necessary to shred the shell, post step two of recycling into its basic materials. Since separation of constituents is required to raise their purity, special sorting technologies are needed before ASR recycling plant, which may use wind & magnetic sorters to make shredded reside suitable as feed of the ASR Plant. A simple flow chart of these plants is shown below:

Current Scenario in India

Every year, vehicles that reach the end of their useful life, end up as discarded vehicles. Unlike advanced countries where the system of automobile recycling has been in practice for quite some time, in India often these vehicles are abandoned or stockpiled at poorly managed local garages. Unfortunately for want of any reliable database, it is only estimated projections of numbers on how many vehicles reach the end of their useful life annually, leave along estimating the discarded or stockpiled vehicles. However, another challenge in India is that once a vehicle reaches the end of its useful life, it never properly processed for recovery of the reusable or recyclable materials and proper disposal of waste components. Without proper processing, scrapping, and recycling, the number of such vehicles has only increased year after year and have become a liability for the owners who tend to abandon them on open land or sell them to a regular scrap dealer who is neither equipped nor aware of their disposal methods causing serious environmental damage leave aside the safety concern in handling it.

Fortunately, with the proper training, facilities, tools and knowledge to process discarded vehicles, hazards can be properly managed as well as vehicle components and parts can be recovered for their scrap metal value while good parts can be salved to be used as regular spares. A properly managed discarded vehicle reduces risks to workers, public health, and the environment; lowers disposal costs; saves landfill capacity, and creates opportunities to recover valuable resources and earn revenues from dismantling and scrapping operations. Unfortunately, till now, India had neither the infrastructure nor the proper regulatory mechanism for efficient disposal of these end-of-life vehicles and current way of handling old vehicles had been very crude as shown in below given in flow chart.

Challenges in India

  • Tracking the Old Vehicles: As vehicle registration data available with various RTO is only cumulative and has not been corrected for scrappage, phase-out, and transfers as well as with no records of de-registration, it is not possible to estimate the precise number of old legacy vehicles by age in India. Thus whatever data related to vehicles on road being made available tend to be inflated hence it is, therefore, any estimate on the number of vehicles will always be doubtful. But with the advent of the VAHAN database launched in July 2011 which states that as of Apr’2021 there is a total of 290.85 Million registered vehicles in India. It is expected within a due course, the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways administers will be able to clean up the database if Based On CSE Report “What To Do With Olf Vehicles?” all RTOs get connected and update the life status for all vehicles and active registration of all vehicles as all new registrations for the past few years are already getting accurately recorded. Further, with the ongoing implementation of HSRP (High-Security Registration Number Plate), it is relatively easier to know the vintage of vehicles, their level of compliance to regulatory provisions, taxation requirements, etc. A deeper effort is needed to correct the entire national database, particularly for older vehicles of times when RTOs were not digitalized. Making national-level estimates is still challenging.
  • Infrastructure & Technology to Handle the Large Volumes: The current infrastructure for vehicle dismantling process in India is in a pathetic state are mainly part of local garages which with the addition of more such garages in the area grows into an unauthorized disposal market e.g. Mayapuri (Delhi), and Shivajinagar (Bangalore). These workshops in these areas functioned smoothly till there were limited numbers of vehicles for scrapping but as the volumes of complex new-age vehicles grow they are becoming obsolete. They were just able to manage few vehicles yet in a very unsafe manner exposing their people to various hazards while handling even thee small numbers of vehicles. As 10 states in India account for 75% of vehicle sales, India needs to maximize the dismantling centers in the outskirts of those cities with a higher concentration of vehicles; good connectivity, and logistics facility. These recycling facilities must also be state-of-the-art facilities to recover high-quality metals, oils, and other materials as well as waste treatment. The system must have a team of a properly trained technician to assess the reusability of parts which must be dismantled from the vehicle, cleaned, tested, inventoried, and stored in a warehouse until sold.
  • Tracking, Identification & Accountability: Once the parts are dismantled from old vehicles & are sold as spares, like any global markets, having fairly organized business, there must be proper traceability of these parts to track their performance of vehicles for retaining their roadworthiness.
  • Handling of New Age Electrical, Hybrid Vehicles: With the new focus of Govt. on electrical & hybrid vehicles, as new means of mobility is evolving and rule the mobility world in coming few decades & with times when these vehicles reach their EOL, these vehicles would also be coming for proper disposal (aging time may be different than what has been set for current age vehicles but they will certainly be aging) and will be coming for their disposal due to age, road accident, damage due to natural calamity, etc. and hence any vehicle recycling facility must also be planned to handling these new-age non-ICEVs. The major concern is in handling the large set of spent Lithium-Ion Batteries (LIB) which needs to be taken out of the vehicle when their capacity reduces by about 25%. The typical recycling process for Li-ion batteries will get Lithium out of old batteries as more than 99% of Lithium can be reused. The byproducts of the recycled batteries will depend on the process, the battery chemistry and many other factors. As the recycling of Li-Ion batteries increases, it will help to bring down the pricing of the batteries further. This will in turn improve the adoption of EVs.
  • Landfills: Although India already has well organized and controlled landfill site management system in place for Hazardous Wastes yet requirement of Automobile waste needs to be studied and if needed special landfill site may be developed.
  • Promotion to Set Up ASR Treatment: Govt. must push the installation of ASR Plant with the latest technology wherever Automobile recycling is done because:
    • A modern facility will provide a better and safer working environment
    • It will considerably reduce the landfill area requirements/
    • It will provide a means for effective and efficient recovery of multi-layer of pure materials like Copper, Palladium, etc. would fetch the recycler handsome gains which currently are just sold as regular scrap.
    • Similarly rubber & plastics and the intrinsic hazardous in their disposal process could be eliminated.
    • Currently, vehicles are dismantled on the roadside, scrapped material is dumped within the scrap yards with complete disregard to the safety of labor working in that area. Unhygienic processes result in air pollution as well as groundwater contamination.
    • It will provide a safe working atmosphere to works in which new generation of workers could be trained with new skill sets.

New Beginning: Mahindra Signs MOU to Offer First Of Its Kind Vehicle Scrapping Solution in India.

This is India’s maiden organized auto shredding venture and vehicle recycling unit. It will recycle specialized steels and other non-ferrous metals. The very first Cero plant will be based out of Greater Noida in Delhi NCR region & will be India’s first auto recycling facility

They will be using world class equipment and processes to recycle vehicles so that there is zero damage to the environment. With safe & efficient recycling of steel and there will be recovery of these metals and thus saving of resources. This recycling initiative also aims to reduce carbon footprint through its eco-friendly practices and symbolizes an effort towards a zero waste, zero pollution eco-system.

Epilogue: Lesson to Be Learnt from Ship Dismantling:

We need to learn and take precaution from shipbreaking in India which began in Kolkata and Mumbai in the 1910s when environmental concern & human safety were in primitive stage in India and beginning with 1980s when the world started seriously considering India as a destination for recycling old vessels and business grew to whooping 6000 crore per year, it brought many social & environmental issues which have been well recorded in many studies. Serious impact of plastic debris contaminating the soil leading contamination of food chain (bio-magnification), degradation due to heavy metals as well Iron, Manganese, Chromium, Nickel, Zinc, Copper, Lead and Cadmium, Mercury have been recorded and same may also happen when such vehicle recycling plants are not properly regulated. And since unlike ship breaking facilities which are far away from human habitat these recycling automobile recycling facilities will be nearer to human pollution and any mal functioning will have serious impact of surroundings. Alang is facing a severe water crisis due to groundwater depletion & contamination so is the frightening list of diseases prevalent in that area; which we cannot afford in areas of these automotive recycling plants.


Blog by - Mr Prabhat Khare

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