Vehicle Scrapping or Recycling? Indian Perspective

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.

The current ‘Vehicle Scrappage Policy 2021’ by GOI is a well-timed and a positive step in the right direction. The policy has perfect timing because of three reasons –

  1. For the disposal of older vehicles, which emit more toxic pollutants and their now obsolete technology
  2. Second because of older technologies only these vehicles may be highly unsafe
  3. 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.

Recycling an old vehicle

“Recycling” can be termed as bringing maximum materials back to the cradle from it all began.

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 comes from tires, plastic, rubber, plastic, gases, glass, fabrics, fluids such as oil, antifreeze, lubricants, and gasoline/ diesel, as well as various electronic components/ circuitry with heavy, rare earth metals. When these vehicles reach the end of their useful life, if handled and recovered efficiently, many of these items could be salvaged and recycled back to the main industry. This reduces burden on the primary industry feeding to automobile industry as well eliminates contamination of environment.

Understanding the global 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 double- walled 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.

Current scenario in India – handling end of life vehicles

Every year, vehicles that reach the end of their useful life in India, end up as discarded vehicles.

Unlike more developed 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. Another challenge in India is that once a vehicle reaches the end of its useful life, it is 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.

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 salvaged to be used as regular spares. A properly managed discarded vehicle reduces safety 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.

Without a proper recovery system installed, a wide range of materials, including rare earth & rare metals to low-grade used oils have full possibility of seeping in the ground contaminating the soil and ground water. Whereas Industry sources indicate that if new age recycling methods are adopted, a normal sedan can help to recover materials equivalent to 2,500 kilograms of iron ore and 1,400 kilograms of coal; reduce the release of 1,000 kilograms of carbon dioxide, and save more than 1 megawatt of energy. In the case of a motorcycle, the corresponding gains are approximately one-eighth of the gains of a car. The accrued energy savings are essentially due to the melting of scrap, rather than smelting ores. Recycling one kilogram of aluminum saves 14-kilo watts of electrical energy, compared to producing virgin metal from bauxite.

Challenges with handling the end of life vehicles 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, an 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 are 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 all RTOs get connected and update the life status for all vehicles and active registration of all vehicles. 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. They 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 only till there were limited numbers of vehicles for scrapping. They were just able to manage few vehicles yet in a very unsafe manner exposing their people to various hazards while handling even a 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 facility must have a team of a properly trained technicians 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 electric, hybrid vehicles

With the new focus of Govt. on electrical & hybrid vehicles, as new means of mobility is evolving. 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. This will in turn improve the adoption of EVs.


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 plants with the latest technology wherever automobile recycling is done:

  • 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 has sighed an 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.

About the author

Profile photo of Prabhat Khare
Prabhat Khare

Director, KK Consultants
Industry Expert from Tata Motors, Honda Cars & Ashok Leyland


  1. Vehicle Recycling, Toyota Motors, April 2017
  2. Development of Scientific Recycling Of End of Life Automobiles In India and The Role ofResearch & Development, Indian National Academy of Engineering, November 2015
  3. Processing End-of-Life Vehicles: A Guide for Environmental Protection, Safety and Profit in theUnited States-Mexico Border Area, July 2017
  4. Auto Salvage Recyclers Environmental Self–Audit Workbook, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, January 2017
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