While initiatives for solar panel recycling in the European Union are already in place, the EU Parliament will amend guidelines for its WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive to set a minimum for the number of modules recycled.
The current level of solar panel waste is small, but research commissioned by the EU last year states this will change by 2025 – 2030 when modules installed early last decade start reaching the end of their serviceable life. Looking further ahead; in 2050 the total quantity of end-of-life photovoltaic panels is expected to be around the 9.5 million tonne mark.
As we’ve mentioned in the past, most of the weight of a solar panel consists of material that can be recycled. The EU study states that aside from aluminium and glass, solar panels may contain rare metals such as silver, indium and gallium. While these rare metals only represent around 1% of a module’s weight, they have significant value.
Initiatives such as PV Cycle are already operating in the EU and the global solar module recycling sector is expected to be a USD $12 billion industry in 2035. Module recycling will not only create jobs, but also reduce the overall environmental impact of the solar industry.
Concerned that take back and recycling of photovoltaic modules will still be too low and to better deal with the issue of module waste in the short to medium term; according to PV Magazine the EU Parliament last month officially declared solar panels to be included as electronic waste and voted for the collection of 85 percent of all end-of-life panels.
PV Magazine states the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive amendments means PV Cycle will need to change from being a voluntary industry association into a service provider for the EU solar industry.
It is expected the amendment will be written into law within the next couple of months and all EU member states will need to implement the new law within 18 months after it comes into effect.