PV module recycling mandatory for all EU members by Q1 2014

Until now, the collection and recycling of old or broken photovoltaic modules in Europe has not been mandatory, because they were not, like televisions, radios, or laptops, classified under the WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) Directive. However, this will now change.

On August 13, 2012, the amended WEEE Directive came into force, meaning that by Q1 2014 at the latest, all EU member countries must implement a national WEEE law. Responsible for the free take back and recycling of the photovoltaic modules are the "producers".

However, under the EU directive, the producer can be the manufacturer or importer, or eventually, the seller or installer. It is at the discretion of each of the 27 member states, who constitutes a producer.

It is also currently open whether in the future old or broken photovoltaic modules are collected separately, or, for example, in communal recycling centers along with other electronic waste like computers and televisions. "We are working to ensure that disused photovoltaic modules continue to be collected separately to avoid costly sorting," Alina Lange, spokeswoman for European industry association, PV Cycle tells pv magazine.

Recycling options

PV Cycle has, since 2010, offered to collect and recycle photovoltaic modules for free. Currently, 245 module manufacturers, importers and associations are part of the organization, thus representing over 90% of the industry, says Lange. Membership fees range from €1,000 per year, to €25,000.

Lange adds that 80 tons of modules were collected and reused via an authorized recycling company in 2010. This has grown to 1,400 tons in 2011 and, in the first 2 quarters of 2012, 2,250 tons. Meanwhile, there are 270 module collection points in Europe, up from 185 in 2011.

"Dissatisfied" with the existing solutions, another PV module recycling organization, CERES, set up shop in 2011. In an interview with pv magazine in July, managing director Nicholas Defrenne said he believed PV Cycle’s business module is "wrong, unfair and won’t work in the long run."

With membership fees ranging from between €600 and €5,000, CERES collected 500 tons of photovoltaic modules from this January to April. For the year, the organization is targeting 1,500 tons. "Because we’re collecting manufacturing scraps, we can go really fast, so we might reach over 3,000 tons," he said. CERES has around 100 members, but it is hoping to reach 200, also be the end of 2012.

Commenting on some of the differences between PV Cycle and CERES, Defrenne stated, "We recycle manufacturing scraps and burned modules. Another big difference is that so far [other recyclers] only recycle glass and aluminum, which represents under 16 percent of raw material value. Seventy percent of raw materials value is in the cell and soldering. These are the materials that have allowed us to change the model."

pv magazine subscribers can gain access to the full interview.

Translated and edited by Becky Beetz.