Auto industry gloom crushing Japan's poor recyclers

Fri Dec 26, 2008 5:19am EST
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By Toshi Maeda

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Thousands of miles away from Detroit, homeless people in Japan are feeling the pinch from the U.S. "Big Three" automakers' financial woes, as they now receive less cash for the aluminum cans they collect to eke a living.

Prices for aluminum, a metal used extensively in car manufacturing, have nosedived almost 60 percent since hitting records in July due to a slump in demand caused by the global economic recession, which has seen the finances of General Motors, Chrysler and Ford falter.

At home, Toyota is also forecasting its first ever consolidated operating loss due to lower demand.

The dozens of homeless collectors of Kawasaki City, just south of Tokyo, have been hit hard by these falling aluminum prices, as they now get less than half the money they used to two months ago selling cans to recycling factories.

Japan recycles more than 90 percent of aluminum cans -- one of the highest recycling rates in the world -- and the industry is worth some 45 million yen ($493,000), according to the Japan Aluminum Can Recycling Association.

Of the total 300,000 metric tons of aluminum collected every year, some 10 percent is gathered by the homeless, the association added.

Every morning, homeless people bike around Kawasaki City to snatch discarded cans left outside residences before garbage trucks arrive to pick them up.

Kazutoshi Kimura, 56, spends almost 10 hours every day on the road, collecting cans and biking for miles to trade them for cash at the aluminum recycling factories.   Continued...

<p>A man sells aluminium cans at an aluminium recycling factory in Kawasaki, south of Tokyo, December 10, 2008. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao</p>