Can you introduce our readers to your company and explain what your competitive advantages are?
A synergy exists between reuse and recycling. There are some companies that do one or the other in Japan, but Hamaya’s strength is that we are able to combine the two. The reuse business is something that we are solid at, but the recycling of e-waste and rare metals still has a long way to go, so we’d like to strengthen that part of our business. One strength is that we have many different overseas partners, meaning we not only have a lot of sales routes, but also have a lot of supplier sources in foreign countries too. Furthermore, another strength is that we have a specialist for analysis on materials.
Japan is a very isolated nation and has had to make the best use of the limited resources that it has. What is your assessment of Japan’s recycling industry and what are the strengths of it?
The ratio of the company is as follows: 40% of all the sales by Hamaya comes from the base metals, such as iron, copper and aluminium. Another 20% is in rare metals, being gold, silver and platinum, which are taken from PCBs and mobile phones. Lastly is the re-use business. The recycling business itself is not in a good position compared to China. Because rare metals are currently popular, the prices are increasing every year, and this draws people’s attention to China and a lot of volume is coming out of that country. In comparison, Japanese companies are superior in refining technologies for rare metals, making the process faster and more efficient.
Your original business was buying and selling household goods for the reuse sector. What is the importance of trading companies in Japan?
We are not dealing with the sogo shosha and the big trading houses. We conduct business with small- to medium-sized trading companies, with the end user being sales companies in local areas. This is our sales channel and how we do business.
You have many different businesses: NPO Hamaya, Used Net, Gimashoten and Tanuki Antique Shop. Could you please elaborate on some of your business lines?
Gimashoten is providing iron materials directly for electric furnace makers. Tanuki and this is interesting because it buys Nordic furniture and household goods from Northern Europe, ships it to Japan and with the same container, we load it up with Japanese goods and ship them to France. This creates a circular system across the three countries. The household goods are vintage and old-fashioned, originating from the UK or France, with many buyers here in Japan. The circulation of the containers that I described creates good relationships with different countries and customers. Quite famous products can be found here in terms of antiques, and they will still be in excellent condition and have good quality.
With the switch to EVs, the ability to recycle lithium-ion batteries has been a point of contention. Are you looking to enter this aspect of the recycling business?
We are not going into the field yet, but maybe when the time is right. To do it, specific recycling technology is required, but we do have affiliated companies that have the ability to conduct it.
You’re currently present in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Middle East, where your made in Japan second-hand items can be purchased. How has the ‘made by Japan’ brand changed over time?
There has been a branch in what can be defined as made by Japan. Thirty years ago, there was a lot of appreciation for these products due to the quality and standards. Now, we can’t say that because there are not many companies left that have a pure understanding of what ‘made by Japan’ means. We see the shift in attitude from foreign customers towards these products, but we definitely think that many second-hand products are finding their way into the market.
You were founded in the 1980s, growing from a small shop to a company valued at 100 million USD. How were you able to achieve this growth?
We started as a small shop, with our most successful period being in the 90s because that’s where the appreciation for the ‘made by Japan’ brand was at its highest. 1991 was the first year we began exporting and we learned a lot during this period. We actually still have people working at this company who have been here since its founding.
Unfortunately, the bubble economy in the 90s burst and with many Japanese companies unable to go abroad, we saw Chinese firms begin to take their place. For that reason, we were unable to work with some tier one and two companies who were making electronic parts. With the companies selling to end-users struggling, many component makers had to move overseas. For us, as a scrap processing company, we were also feeling the effects, as we couldn’t get as much scrap as we wanted. The less that was made in Japan, the less we could handle, and our business started to slow down. Due to the expansion in China, the price had been down.
That caused, over thirty-five years, many companies to go out of business.
Printed circuit boards
Dismantling e-waste at NPO Hamaya
Hamaya’s analysis center
Hamaya’s large crusher machine
Your company is heavily engaged in domestic and international networking to conduct business, establishing relationships with refining companies and scrap suppliers. As you look to increase your business, are you looking for more partners overseas?
It’s a difficult time right now for most companies, including ourselves. There is not a lot of exposure and as a result, dealing with foreign companies for materials becomes difficult. However, the future is bright, as we have many employees who can speak multiple languages and contact affiliate companies outside Japan. We are being optimistic and are trying to recruit even more foreign employees, such as students. The idea is to employ people who have specific technical expertise in PCBs and have an academic understanding of it. After they have worked at our company, they may possibly go back to their own country and start their own business, which we can then form a connection with.
Only 20% of e-waste is being recycled in modern society. With countries such as Brazil and India increasing their GDP and slowly becoming consumer-oriented societies, there will be growth in the need for recycling. You already have ‘Hamaya Do Brasil’, but in the future, which overseas locations would you like to base yourselves to benefit from this increasing recycling demand?
The necessity and demand are there because e-waste can be found anywhere. There is no country in the world that doesn’t have PCs or smartphones. However, technologies that can process these, such as refining, can only be found in certain countries, like Japan or in Europe. The market itself is small and niche, but there is a lot of competition, and we can look into an area that has large amounts of e-waste.
As we look into the future, what strategies are you putting in place to continue to strengthen your business? What sales targets are you setting for yourself in the future?
We are thinking about increasing our recycling of the e-waste segment tenfold, which will help us with our future targets. This is the only segment of our business that we can grow financially. Our re-use business is stable, but there is not much room for growth. Our rare metals have potential for growth, with 20% of all turnover currently coming from rare metals and we are also hoping to increase this segment tenfold. In terms of numerical targets, we don’t have clear numbers. But in the coming years, we are hoping to increase our sales from 10 billion to 20 billion Japanese yen.
When it comes to your overseas expansion as a recycling and trading company, what is your international strategy for the future?
We had bases in Hong Kong and the Philippines, however these have since closed, and we have learned from our mistakes. Brazil took ten years for the business to get to where it currently is now, which is stable but profitable.
Because of the struggles that we have experienced, we are considering finding local partners. There are many recycling companies around the world, with many countries introducing themselves to this business. Working with local companies is the way to go, and probably the most efficient strategy too, and this could be executed through employing foreign students, for example. Economically developing countries, such as India and some African countries, or dense population centres, are our target locations. Where there are a lot of people, there is a high use of daily commodities, especially electronics, and that is an excellent reason why we should be locating ourselves in these areas.
Imagine we come back right before you retire to have this interview again. What would you like to tell us? What goals would you have liked to have achieved by then?
The younger employees will be responsible for taking the company to new heights and making it the number one company in Japan that collects rare metals. Social contribution has to be outlined because if e-waste recycling isn’t introduced by us, then it will be dumped in the environment and damage it. It needs to be properly handled and for that reason, we carry the responsibility of being a socially aware company that contributes to being eco-friendly.
We want to develop refining technology and introduce it into our business sector in the future, and we want to work on our analytical technology as well.