Concern for the environment is a high-profile issue in Japanese industry. All of the foundries visited emphasized their commitment to cleaning up the environment. Compared to 10 or 20 years ago, substantial progress has been made in cleaning up the Japanese environment.

The approach to environmental compliance in Japan appears to be very different from that seen in the United States. Japanese foundries seem to accept compliance as a responsibility as a good corporate citizen and good neighbor. The relationship between foundries and the government on the issue of environmental regulations is one of cooperation, and the companies appear to be genuinely enthusiastic about improving the environment.

It is difficult to compare environmental regulations between Japan and the United States. In many areas regulations are similar. Mutual cooperation between government and industry to achieve a cleaner environment appears to be the rule. However, other areas appear to be less stringently regulated. Two examples illustrate this: no foundry reported having any difficulty in disposing of spent foundry sand or investment casting mold material, and one foundry is using naphthalene as a lost pattern material. Naphthalene, a polycyclic aromatic compound, is one of the substances that must be controlled under the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, and its use in a U.S. foundry would not be considered.

Nevertheless, Japanese foundries do have to respond to Japanese environmental legislation requirements, which have grown steadily since the late 1940s. Regulations may be initiated by the national government, the prefectural government, or the local civic authorities. (The latter are particularly zealous about odors, and Japan has a number of laws regulating odor generation.) Environmental laws, therefore, vary by prefecture as they vary by state in the United States. This is one of the reasons that sand disposal is not yet a problem: there are still prefectures willing to accept spent foundry sand in landfills. The Japanese tend to emphasize waste stream reduction -- designing the process to produce the minimum in waste materials -- over amelioration and treatment. This is undoubtedly partially due to the high cost of energy in Japan and to the reluctance to use it in an application when better design would eliminate the need for it.

The Japanese have also been aggressive at reclaiming and reusing foundry sand beneficially. So far the foundry sand reuse has focused on selling fines and grinding dust to the cement industry. A number of foundries sponsor research in universities to find new uses for spent foundry sand; so far these programs have not been successful. Because foundry sand is much more expensive in Japan than in the United States, the emphasis is on recycling and reclaiming it until it is no longer usable. Tipping fees are similar for foundry sand in Japan and the United States although there are enough places that accept sand without invoking the fees (and little enough sand being disposed of) that fees are not considered a problem. One interesting aspect of the Japanese foundry industry is that many foundries contract their core making to sub-contractors. These core makers then buy back much of the foundry sand that is generated in the foundries, reclaim it, and use it for cores.

The WTEC team found that small foundries in Japan were unhappy with the proliferation of environmental regulations, although they were working hard to meet them. Large foundry organizations were responding by actively implementing technology to improve the environment. One large corporation had projects actively under investigation in four fields: working environment, waste stream reduction, recycling, and greenhouse effect reduction.

The working environment projects focused on dust reduction and protection, heat reclamation and worker protection, noise reduction and protection, and the development of a low-odor resin for core making. This company's focus on the workplace environment is notable because it is clear that there is no Japanese counterpart of OSHA. The foundries WTEC visited were notably less protective of their workers than American foundries would be. For instance, few of the Japanese foundries visited required safety glasses although most required helmets. It appears that Japanese foundries prefer to train their workers in safe working practices rather than dress them in layers of protective clothing.

No mention was made in any of the visits, either in Europe or in Japan, of development programs for nonpolluting core binders although such programs are actively being pursued in the United States (Biederman et al. 1996).

Hosts at most of the ferrous foundries visited expressed concern about the reduction of slag. One ferrous foundry also puts its melt scrap through a dezincification process before melting to avoid zinc fume production during melting. Most foundries also have programs to reclaim heat given up in the foundry process.

At present, Japanese foundrymen consider environmental regulations to be a bother but not a problem. They do not foresee the necessity of moving their plants from Japan to other sites in Asia to avoid compliance problems with environmental regulations and do not anticipate that these regulations will be become restrictive in the future. Most of the Japanese foundries visited were cleaner than comparable U.S. foundries, with a much greater emphasis on housekeeping. This reflected not only a concern for the environment but also a concern over worker retention.

European foundries are carrying out research to reduce pollution and environmental impact. Environmental regulations and concerns vary by country. The impression in Europe is that progress in the environmental area is steady and that no breakthroughs are expected.

Published: March 1997; WTEC Hyper-Librarian