Cars are widely used as the primary mode of land transportation, providing convenience and the ability to transport individuals, goods, and services quickly to their destinations. However, cars are complex devices consisting of tens of thousands of components, not only materials that can be recycled or reused, such as steel, brass, and rubber but also hazardous components like lubricating oil and refrigerants. When cars reach the end of their usable life, they become “ELVs” or “End-of-Life Vehicles,” which basically means that they are unwanted or in a damaged and deteriorated condition to the point where they cannot pass the inspection and cannot be registered.
The term “ELVs” refers to vehicles that have reached the end of their operational life and are no longer fit for road use. This includes cars, motorcycles, trucks, and other motorized vehicles. According to recent estimates, the number of ELVs generated globally is expected to reach 70 million units per year by 2030, placing immense pressure on waste management systems and the environment.
The improper disposal of ELVs can result in severe consequences for the environment. ELVs contain various hazardous substances, including heavy metals, oils, and batteries, which can contaminate soil and water sources if not managed properly. Moreover, the release of toxic gases during the dismantling and recycling processes can contribute to air pollution and pose health risks to workers and nearby communities.
In the context of Thailand, the rapid expansion of urban centers and the subsequent rise in vehicle ownership together with being a hub for major automobile manufacturers, have contributed to a significant increase in number of ELVs. As the economy grows and urbanization accelerates, there is a need to address the environmental impact associated with ELV disposal effectively.
End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs) have become a pressing environmental concern worldwide, with their improper disposal posing significant risks to ecosystems and public health. As a rapidly developing nation, Thailand has witnessed a surge in vehicle ownership, resulting in a corresponding increase in ELV generation. Recognizing the environmental impact of ELVs, Thailand has taken significant strides to address this issue and promote sustainable practices for vehicle disposal.
Current Situation of ELVs in Thailand
The growing number of vehicles on Thai roads has inevitably led to a significant increase in the generation of End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs). As the automotive industry thrives and consumer preferences evolve, it is crucial to assess the current situation regarding ELV management in Thailand.
Statistics from the Department of Land Transport regarding the car ownership situation show a continuous upward trend in the number of privately owned cars every year. The number increased from 6.38 million vehicles in the year 2004 to 15.6 million vehicles in the year 2017. According to vehicle registration statistics nationwide in 2022, there were a total of 43.4 million cars, including passenger cars and pickups with a usage period of over 20 years, totaling 3.3 million units. This is because there has been an increase in the registration of new privately owned cars, with an annual increase of approximately 500,000 vehicles. Meanwhile, older cars still remain in circulation. From the total accumulated number of privately owned cars in the year 2017 of 15.6 million vehicles, it was found that there were approximately 4.15 million vehicles that were over 15 years old. It can be observed that privately owned cars in Thailand are predominantly older and the number will continue to increase. In the near future, these cars will reach the end of their life and will require proper management in significant numbers.
ELVs in Thailand primarily originate from private vehicles and commercial vehicles, including taxis, buses, and delivery trucks. The steady growth in private vehicle ownership has led to a considerable proportion of ELVs being contributed by individual consumers. At the same time, commercial vehicles, which undergo intensive use and experience higher wear and tear, also contribute significantly to the ELV stream. Department of Land Transport’s record also shows that the average number of privately owned cars that have been reported as not in use (or have their registrations cancelled) is approximately 19,000 vehicles per year. Additionally, there are cars whose registrations have been suspended due to unpaid taxes for three consecutive years, from the year 2004 until March 31, 2018, with a total accumulation of 1.89 million vehicles. Both the cars reported as not in use and the ones with suspended registrations are vehicles that have been removed from the registration system, and it can be assumed that they have reached the end of their life. According to the law, these cars cannot be legally operated (Section 6 of the Vehicle Act, B.E. 2522). Ministry of Industry has estimated that in the next 20 years, there will be an additional 16 million cars with a usage period of over 20 years. Among this number, there will be approximately 200,000 to 300,000 car scrap generated annually. However, due to the lack of regulations on how vehicle owners should proceed with cars that are no longer in use, including the absence of a vehicle tracking and data collection systems for unused vehicles, which should be provided by the Department of Land Transport, it is not possible to determine how these vehicles have been under control of the Department. Some may have been re-registered according to the law, while others may have been unlawfully used or dismantled as end-of-life vehicles after their components were separated and destroyed.
Despite the mounting volume of ELVs, the management of these end-of-life vehicles in Thailand presents several challenges. One of the key issues is the lack of an organized and comprehensive ELV management infrastructure. The absence of a clear and standardized system for ELV collection, dismantling, and disposal often results in haphazard practices, including illegal dumping and informal dismantling operations. Moreover, there is a need to enhance awareness and understanding among vehicle owners regarding the proper disposal of ELVs. Many individuals are unaware of the potential environmental hazards associated with incorrect ELV disposal or the available options for recycling or refurbishing vehicles at the end of their lifespan. As a result, a significant number of ELVs end up abandoned or improperly disposed of, exacerbating the environmental impact. In March 2022, Director-General of the Department of Industrial Works, revealed that there are only two fully integrated automobile dismantling factories currently in operation. They are Hidakayoko Enterprise Co., Ltd. in Chonburi Province and Wongpanit International Co., Ltd. in Ayutthaya Province. These factories handle the collection of ELVs, dismantling vehicle parts, and disposal of waste generated from vehicles that cannot be efficiently utilized.
Efficient ELV management also requires the development of appropriate treatment facilities and recycling centers. Establishing adequate infrastructure for the safe handling, dismantling, and recycling of ELVs is crucial to prevent the release of hazardous materials into the environment. However, the availability and accessibility of such facilities in Thailand are limited, posing significant challenges to sustainable ELV management. To address these issues, the Thai government has initiated measures to enhance ELV management practices in the country. Legislative and regulatory frameworks have been introduced to promote proper ELV disposal and encourage responsible vehicle ownership. These initiatives aim to ensure that vehicle owners have clear guidelines and incentives to dispose of their vehicles in an environmentally friendly manner.
In addition, the government has been collaborating with industry stakeholders, including automakers and recycling companies, to establish partnerships and programs that facilitate the environmentally sound management of ELVs. These collaborations encourage the development of recycling technologies, the establishment of dismantling centers, and the promotion of circular economy principles in the automotive sector. The progress made in ELV management in Thailand demonstrates the country’s commitment to addressing the environmental impact of end-of-life vehicles. However, significant challenges remain, including the need for widespread awareness and education, the establishment of adequate treatment facilities, and the enforcement of regulations.
Environmental Impact of ELVs
The improper disposal of End-of-Life Vehicles (ELVs) in Thailand has significant environmental consequences that extend beyond the mere accumulation of discarded vehicles. The environmental impact of ELVs encompasses various concerns, including air pollution, soil contamination, and resource depletion.
One of the primary environmental concerns associated with ELVs is air pollution. When ELVs are dismantled or crushed without proper preventive measures, toxic gases and particulate matter are released into the atmosphere. These emissions can contribute to local air pollution, affecting the air quality in nearby communities and posing health risks to residents. Additionally, the incineration of ELVs or their components, particularly plastics and other non-metallic materials, can release harmful pollutants into the air.
Another crucial aspect of ELV environmental impact is soil contamination. ELVs contain hazardous substances such as heavy metals (e.g., lead, mercury, cadmium) and fluids (e.g., oil, coolant) that can leach into the soil when vehicles are improperly disposed of or abandoned. Over time, these contaminants can seep into groundwater and nearby water bodies, posing risks to ecosystems and potentially entering the human food chain.
In Thailand, the environmental impact of ELVs has become a significant concern due to the increasing number of vehicles reaching the end of their life. Studies have shown that improper ELV disposal practices have resulted in contaminated soil, polluted air, and the wastage of valuable resources.
Progress and Initiatives in ELV Management in Thailand
Recognizing the environmental impact of ELVs, Thailand government has implemented various measures and initiatives to address the challenges associated with ELV management and promote sustainable practices. These efforts demonstrate the country’s commitment to reducing the environmental footprint of ELVs and moving towards a more circular economy.
Department of Industrial Works has estimated that according to the statistics on the number of vehicles categorized by vehicle age nationwide, as of January 31, 2022, Thailand has a total of 5,033,307 vehicles that are over 20 years old across all types. If these 5 million vehicles were recycled, it would yield approximately 6.55 million tons of steel. It is estimated that within the next 20 years, the number of vehicles over 20 years old will increase by 16 million. The problem of PM 2.5 pollution is largely attributed to old vehicles with long service lives and a lack of proper maintenance, making vehicle recycling essential. Therefore, Department of Industrial Works announced that it aimed to promote the expansion of automobile dismantling business to reduce the importation of steel and utilize resources from vehicle dismantling to produce components that benefit the industry, such as rubber, plastic, and extracted metals from electronic components and ferrous metals. It is worth noting that approximately 69% of a car’s composition is made of steel, with a value of more than 30,000 baht (approx. 850 USD) per vehicle. Thailand’s steel consumption is currently at 19 million tons per year, with imports accounting for 12 million tons and domestic production for 7 million tons.
Since 2019, the Ministry of Industry has signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for a pilot project called “ELV Project: End-of-life Vehicles in Thailand” in collaboration with the Industrial Estate Authority of Thailand and the New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO), a Japanese governmental R&D funding agency. The project aims to establish an efficient and appropriate resource circulation system from end-of-life vehicles in Thailand, focusing on energy conservation and recycling. The goal is to develop a circular economy model in Thailand and the Asian region in the future. As part of this collaboration, a standard working manual for vehicle dismantling and appropriate practices for dismantling end-of-life vehicles have been compiled. These guidelines will provide management strategies and incentives for individuals to properly dispose of their old vehicles, thereby stimulating economic activity by encouraging the purchase of environmentally friendly new vehicles. This will contribute to the establishment of an efficient end-of-life vehicle management system in Thailand for the foreseeable future.
Legislative and regulatory measures have been instrumental in driving progress in ELV management in Thailand. The government has introduced EPR policies and draft laws that require vehicle manufacturers and importers to take responsibility for the proper disposal of their end-of-life products. These regulations place the onus on manufacturers to establish systems for collecting and managing ELVs, encouraging them to adopt environmentally friendly practices throughout the vehicle life cycle. However, such regulation is still under consideration.
In addition to legislative measures, the Thai government has actively collaborated with industry stakeholders to establish initiatives and programs aimed at promoting responsible ELV management. Partnerships between the government, automakers, recycling companies, and other relevant entities have been forged to facilitate more establishment of dismantling centers and recycling facilities.
In May 2023, Director General of the Department of Industrial Works, together with Director General of the Pollution Control Department, chaired a meeting to discuss the collaborative work mechanism among three main agencies: the Department of Industrial Works, the Pollution Control Department, and the Department of Land Transport, regarding the management of ELVs under relevant laws.
During the 1st National Environmental Committee meeting of 2023, held on March 15th, 2023, measures to prevent and solve particulate matter pollution during the crisis situation were considered, along with long-term plans for 2023-2026. The meeting decided to implement measures to motivate the public to dispose of old cars with a usage period of over 20 years properly. Additionally, measures to limit the quantity of cars and factories, as well as efficient and environmentally-friendly car scrap management methods, were proposed.
The Director-General of the Department of Industrial Works also emphasized the importance of the circular economy in car scrap management. The department currently operates the End of Life Vehicle (ELV) Project at Green Metals (Thailand) Co., Ltd., in Chonburi Province. This project aims to promote energy conservation and natural resource preservation through the demonstration of car scrap recycling. It is a collaborative effort with Japan and the network of countries, serving as a model factory for proper and environmentally friendly car scrap management, promoting recycling and resource circulation for the industrial sector in the future.
Research and technological advancements have played a crucial role in advancing ELV management practices in Thailand. Innovative methods for safely dismantling, material recovery, and recycling ELVs have been explored to maximize resource utilization and minimize environmental impact. These developments have the potential to revolutionize the way ELVs are managed and pave the way for more sustainable solutions.
Furthermore, public awareness and education campaigns have been launched to inform vehicle owners about the importance of proper ELVs disposal. These initiatives aim to raise awareness about the environmental hazards associated with incorrect ELVs disposal methods and inform individuals about the available options for recycling or disposing of their vehicles responsibly.
While some progress has been made in ELVs management in Thailand, challenges still persist. The need for increased infrastructure for proper dismantling, recycling, and disposal facilities remains a main priority. Strengthening collaboration between stakeholders, including government bodies, manufacturers, recyclers, and research institutions, is vital to address these challenges effectively.