The WEEE Directive is a EU-wide directive regulating the collection, transport and disposal of electronic waste, including solar PV products.
What is the WEEE Directive?
The Waste of Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive refers to the original European Community Directive 2002/ 96/ EC and concerns the collection and recycling of waste electrical and electronic products.
The directive became European Law in January 2003 and has been requiring manufacturers to establish and organize infrastructure to collect their waste electronic equipment free of charge for private households and recycle or dispose it in an ecological manner.
Following slow and only gradual implementation and also addressing new market and technology conditions, the WEEE Directive has been amended in 2008 and 2012 with 2012/19/EU being the latest Directive edition. This EU WEEE Directive, published in July 2012, required all 28 EU Member States (EU-28) to implement it into national law by February 2014.
By the end of 2014, the majority of the EU-28 and also European Free Trade Association (EFTA) countries has converted the amended WEEE Directive (2012/19/EU) into national law, however some countries have still not concluded that process. Nevertheless, the Directive is valid and applies to all EU-28.
Even though with general provisions outlined in the Directive, due to diverging interpretations of the WEEE Directive by each Member State, the requirement details of waste collection, recycling and disposal vary all over the EU-28, thus posing enormous operational challenges to businesses.
WEEE and the solar industry
Solar products have for years been exempted from the WEEE directive. Starting from the first quarter of 2014, when the amended WEEE Directive – which since then includes solar photovoltaic modules – has come into effect, solar panel producers are obliged to collect and recycle waste panels in each member state – a procedure that will become very expensive for manufacturers since, in absence of an identical framework, the requirements vary in each EU member state.
Another challenge is the distinction between solar photovoltaic panels and other electrical appliances using solar cells which fall into other WEEE categories. Such other products include solar-powered calculators, backpacks, cell phone chargers, fans, radios, watches, air conditioners and many more.
Following the translation into national law, the definition of solar panel producer as outlined in the EU directive is also be at the discretion of each member state, which may be either the manufacturer, importer, re-seller or installer.
Ensuring compliance: solar PV recycling bodies
The new and enforced solar PV waste requirements have triggered the establishment and growth of a new sub-sector: solar photovoltaic recycling. Solar PV recycling bodies in Europe have been set up several years ago to help PV companies to comply with the WEEE Directive.
PV CYCLE, the major European solar PV panel recycling body which is also present in other markets, including China, to facilitate global compliance, is one of the bodies that supports and handles in exchange for membership fees the collection, transport and disposal of PV e-waste.