The EU Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg, France, voted on January 18 to update its Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment (WEEE) legislation to include solar photovoltaic (PV) modules. Member states will have 18 months to update their laws. Under the amendments to WEEE, 85 of all end-of-life PV modules have to be collected in member states, and 80 percent have to be recycled. PV Magazine reports that the Parliament “found the commitment for the take back and recycling of photovoltaic modules by the solar industry too lax.”
“In order to reflect the very long lifetime of PV panels and the recent appearance of PV markets in Europe, an individual collection target for PV panels should be based on the quantities of end-of-life PV panels available,” said Reinhold Buttgereit, secretary general of the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA). Buttereit added, “The PV industry is ready to support the European Commission in establishing the methodology for a waste-generated approach.”
PV modules are designed to last for 15 to 20 years, and the next 15 years, PV recycling will become an emerging market, according to a recently released report by Research and Markets. The report found that over the last decade there has been tremendous growth in the global solar PV market, growing from 1,459 MW of cumulative installed capacity in 2000 to 40,758 MW in 2010. That represents a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 40 percent.
The report also found that the waste generated by end-of-life modules in 2025 is expected to be approximately 24,855 tons, and increase to 1,161,176 tons by 2035. Crystalline modules will account for the majority of solar PV waste during that period with a predicted 19,475 tons of waste in 2025 and 1,098,282 tons by 2035.
In 2008, an analysis by a University of California-Berkeley researcher found that all the solar panels on the market contain toxic materials. The oldest type, crystalline PV, is made with lead. Newer thin film panels contain cadmium, which is fatal in large amounts, and has been linked to lung and kidney damage.
“It’s gene toxic and a mutagen, so it has the ability to affect DNA, meaning it could affect reproduction and future generations’ DNA,” Researcher Dustin Mulvaney said about cadmium.
Solar PV manufacturers need to think about recycling while designing modules. “If you don’t look at the recycling when you’re designing the product, then it’s really, really difficult to recycle,” said Sheila Davis, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. “But if you know you’re going to have to pay for the recycling at the end of life, you might make the necessary design changes in your product now to reduce that cost.”
Photo credit: Flickr user, Living Off Grid