The difference between a managed economy — i.e. China — and a free market economy — i.e. the US — is that a managed economy can eliminate untaxed externalities that allow manufacturers to pass the costs of pollution onto others to bear. In the US model, corporations are free to pump all the pollutants they want into the air, the land, and rivers in order to maximize profits and executive compensation.
Not content with pouring an unending stream of waste products into the environment, US corporations make enormous campaign contributions to politicians who will further reduce “job killing regulations” that attempt to protect the environment from wanton assault by polluters. It’s cheaper to buy compliant congressmen and senators than it is to clean up their own mess. In other words, in the US model, there are few consequences for bad behavior.
China looks at things differently. It issued a series of “interim rules” on February 26 that place the burden to properly recycle batteries from electric vehicles on manufacturers. According to Reuters, the new rules require car makers to create “recycling channels and service outlets where old batteries can be collected, stored and transferred to specialist recyclers.”
In addition, they must establish maintenance facilities where electric vehicle owners can repair or exchange their old batteries conveniently. They also are expected to provide incentives to owners to make sure old batteries are disposed of properly. The national government wants the companies to develop tracing systems that will allow authorities to track down any owners who dispose of their batteries illegally.
Standardized battery manufacturing techniques will make old batteries easier to dismantle efficiently using highly automated systems. Lastly, manufacturers will be expected to provide technical training to recycling centers so that old batteries are disposed of in a manner that does not harm the environment.
Some may cringe at such heavy-handed government interference in how business chooses to operate. Others may applaud such a hard headed, realistic approach to what will inevitably become a significant problem for society as a whole as the number of spent EV batteries rises in coming years. The Chinese approach puts the environment ahead of corporate profits. Is that such a bad thing?
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