Solar's big guns take aim at WEEE non-compliance culture

Members of European take-back and recycling scheme PV Cycle have backed today a rallying call by the scheme’s organizers decrying the "free-rider" culture that exists within some parts of Europe’s solar industry when it comes to compliance with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE).

The WEEE directive regulates the treatment of electrical and electronic waste at the end of their life cycle in Europe. In 2012, solar PV panels were added to this directive. PV Cycle has been active in Europe for some years to facilitate compliance and to foster solar recycling infrastructure and systems in Europe.

However, since the launch of the initiative, approximately 40% of solar producers active in the EU market are non-compliant with WEEE regulations – a situation that can jeopardize customers’ trust in PV products throughout the continent, says PV Cycle.

A group of industry leaders – including representatives from Trina Solar, SunPower, Solar Frontier, JinkoSolar, Conergy and aleo solar – have joined PV Cycle in expressing their concern over the widespread non-committal of many solar operators to conform to the "high commitment to sustainable lifecycle management that motivated the industry to operate its own voluntary take-back and recycling scheme from 2007 to 2012".

PV Cycle president Axel Steuer has labeled non-compliant firms "free-riders", and called them a "threat to the PV industry, especially in these difficult times, and a threat to our product’s promise: an all-green product".

Steuer added: "Those companies that are compliant [with WEEE regulations] pay double the cost for PV waste management."

Compliance with WEEE brings financial and administrative responsibilities, but also assures end-users that the product is subjected to high standards of quality for its entire life cycle – even at the waste disposal stage. According to PV Cycle, some non-compliant companies are even using the name and logo of a certified WEEE and waste management program without abiding by the legislation nor contributing financially to the scheme.

"PV Cycle has always stood for a fair and efficient WEEE and waste management approach," said PV Cycle’s MD Jan Clyncke. "Working towards consistency and fullness of compliance, ensuring that PV module waste does not become an issue in the future and creating a level playing field have certainly become a main focus in recent times."

The take-back initiative in Europe was originally voluntary, but was made mandatory in 2012 with the launch of the WEEE.