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EU extends EPR concept to PV modules

Europe – As of February 14, the collection, transport and recycling of discarded end-of-life photovoltaic (PV) panels, as well as related financing and administration, will be enshrined in EU law. ‘The WEEE (waste electrical and electronic equipment) legislation brings significant changes as it implies producers of PV modules to mandatorily organise and finance the waste management of their used products,’ says Jan Clyncke, managing director of the PV CYCLE association.

The extended producer responsibility (EPR) concept has now been extended to PV modules. Thus, ‘PV producers’ – in other words, all firms or individuals manufacturing, selling, reselling or importing PV modules in an EU country – are now responsible for disposing of and recycling panels in all the EU Member States in which they operate.

Those obligations are ‘likely to differ significantly’ from country to country, according to Clyncke. The UK was the first Member State to implement such legislation, in advance of the deadline, on January 1 2014. And in late 2013, the Italian and Flemish (Belgium) governments adopted draft regulations which are expected to be confirmed before the February deadline.

An important requirement is that PV producers need to consider national WEEE compliance. ‘In most countries, producers will now have to subscribe to take-back and recycling schemes recognised by the national governments in order to put PV modules into these countries, as is the case in the UK, France, the Czech Republic or Spain,’ Clyncke notes.

He expects Europe’s biggest PV markets of Germany and Italy to allow both industry-managed and individual take-back and recycling schemes, which is likely to lead to competition among those offering WEEE-compliance services but also to ‘a more complex compliance procedure’.

Thanks to ‘intensive campaigning’ by the PV industry, legislators have decided that producers will not have to bear a share of the costs of other consumer products included within the WEEE regulation. Owing to their 25-year-plus lifespan, PV modules are recycled on a much smaller scale than other equipment. ‘Recycling of panels will grow significantly only in 10 or 20 years, when large quantities of new panels installed during the last decade will arrive at the end of their lifespan,’ Clyncke points out.

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