India and car recycling

However, India’s auto-recycling or auto-shredder ecosystem is still in its infancy. The sector is largely dominated by the unorganized sector. Areas like Mayapuri & Jama Masjid in Delhi, Kurla in Mumbai, Pudupet in Chennai are the current cemeteries for end-of-life vehicles.

Activities in these areas are largely disorganized and unregulated. This means that the recycling process is mainly carried out without complex systems and processes. The recovery and efficiency is also low. The processes not only harbor health risks, but also inherently have serious security gaps.

Health risks surrounding the markets have attracted attention in the past. A few years ago there was a case of radiation caused by Cobalt 60 pencils. Lead-acid batteries are also harmful to health. Oils from vehicles dumped onto roads create extremely unsanitary conditions in the surrounding area. The practice of gas cutting causes enormous pollution and makes it impossible to breathe – which either way worsens the miserable state of air quality that prevails in Delhi.

In addition to the existing pipeline of old vehicles pouring into these markets, the government is drafting much-needed end-of-life car policies. With the average lifespan of a car in India being 18 years versus 9.73 years in Europe, vehicles are well past their sell-by date. The effect is obvious: an old car produces up to 10 times more emissions than new cars, possesses outdated technology, etc. The Delhi government first drafted a policy to scrap approximately 37,000 vehicles older than 15 years 37 % of cars registered in Delhi.

“Currently there is no regulation directing the police or the government what to do with the vehicles once they have been impounded. The new regulations will create a mechanism to ensure proper disposal of old vehicles. This will be a policy first of its kind in India,” Commissioner (Transport) Varsha Joshi told Hindustan Times.

The question now is: does Delhi (or India) have sufficient and proper capacity to recycle these old cars?

India needs to adopt best practices from Europe and the US to take car recycling practices to an organized level.

The vehicle is first sent to the pollutant removal. The detoxification process safely removes all hazardous waste – batteries, airbags, gas cylinders, mercury switches, tyres, air conditioning, liquids and oils – this is done by sophisticated machinery. The vehicle is then sent for dismantling where good parts are removed for resale/further use. The rest of the vehicle is then pressed/sheared. The pressed vehicle is then sent to the shredder for further processing.

When shredding, 3 components of the automobile are separated:

• Iron – recycled to material

• Non-Ferrous – Recycled into material

• Shredded tailings – these are sent to landfill or further recycled as much as possible

The organized process is carried out by machines as opposed to brute force used in unorganized markets. As a result of these organized processes, almost no pollution and waste is produced.

The result is a circular economy in which steel scrap produced is reused and reliance on natural resource extraction and steel scrap imports is reduced (India currently imports 8 million tonnes of steel scrap). The need of the hour for the Indian context is therefore not only an efficient end-of-life car policy, but also organized vehicle recycling.