It comes as no surprise to anyone that solar panels are electronic waste. They need to be properly handled and recycled at end of life, and not just dumped off in a landfill somewhere. Yet, it is only just now that solar panels are getting the attention they need when it comes to counting as e-waste.
"The EU Parliament has officially changed the guidelines for its WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) Directive. Under the amendments, used photovoltaic modules must now be collected and recycled," reports PV Magazine.The change was sparked after the parliament found that PV take-back and recycling by the industry was too lax. Now, 85% of all PV modules must be collected at end of life and 80% must be recycled. The new regulation will require all EU member states to have the new law implemented within 18 months of it going into effect.
So what does this really mean for PV recycling? Well, the numbers aren't clear quite yet. The article states, "The final photovoltaic module collection quota is still not clear, due to the fact that the amount of end-of-lifetime modules is anticipated to be very low over the next few years, and because the lifetime of modules typically extends to between 20 to 30 years... In terms of calculations, looking at the amount of installed modules in Germany over the past two years, for example, – around 15 gigawatts (GW) – it is clear that this will return around 1.5 million tons of scrap modules, when based on an estimated module weight of 100 tons per megawatt."
It is the perfect time to get regulations in to place as PV collection and recycling is still relatively new -- in about 15 to 20 years, it's going to be a much, much bigger issue as current installations need a place to toss old panels. It may also prove to be a great model for the US to follow as well.