The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) is the law of the European Union regulating the treatment of electrical and electronic waste at the end of their life cycle. Since 2012, WEEE has set up the rules for the collection and recycling of photovoltaic panels. The Producers are now responsible for taking back and disposing of the modules and its financing. The main goal of the directive is to reduce waste volumes and foster innovation by making Producers of electronic and electric products more responsible.
The European Union has decided to promote the practice of “Extended Producers Responsibility” for PV panels. This means that it would be up to the Producers of the modules to collect and dispose them of at the end of their life-cycle. End-users will not have to pay any additional cost to dispose of the PV modules and will have to be instructed from the Producers on how to proceed with the take-back of the modules.
According to WEEE, there are four categories of Producers: manufacturers, distributors or resellers, importers and internet or distance sellers. When selling panels, they must all comply with WEEE by carrying out a number of requirements, including a number of administrative and financial duties with the designated authorities. Producers are a key figure in the disposal and recycling of photovoltaic modules because they are ultimately responsible for the panels they sell in the European Union.
It depends on what kind of panels they are. A silicon-based module is usually crushed in a mill and treated mechanically. A great majority of the different components of the panel can be recovered and recycled (glass, semiconductors, aluminum) through this process. Non-silicon based panels are similarly crushed but also undergo chemical bathing processes to separate the semiconductor materials and allow for their recovery and recycling.
The WEEE legislation has set up the general rules – and targets – for the disposal of photovoltaic modules across EU Member States. However, each European country has to transform this EU legislation into national law to further refine the rules behind the collection and recycling process.
Up until today, WEEE legislation does not cover the disposal of solar thermal modules.