A dozen years after it set out to build an industry from scratch, China boasts the world’s largest number of electric vehicles. More than 6 million clean-energy cars and trucks are running on Chinese roads. 

That’s 6 million electric vehicle (EV) batteries that are going to wear out one day. The oldest electric cars are starting to retire their batteries: More than 200,000 tons of them went offline in 2020, Xinhua (in Chinese) reported in April, citing figures from the China Automotive Technology and Research Center. From 2021 to 2030, the auto industry will shed 7.05 million more tons of EV batteries—about 168 times the weight of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest Stadium, Greenpeace wrote in an October report

It’s either a huge mountain of toxic waste, or a gold mine of rare metals. It all depends on battery recycling.

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Jill Shen

Jill Shen is Shanghai-based technology reporter. She covers Chinese mobility, autonomous vehicles, and electric cars. Connect with her via e-mail: jill.shen@technode.com or Twitter: @yushan_shen