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Recycling of photovoltaic panels.

18 October 2018

In one of our previous articles we mentioned the enormous volume of waste generated by Western society or civilization. We attach this article referring to waste derived from the activity of photovoltaic energy.


 "In 2016, the world generated 44.7 million metric tons (Mt) of electrical and electronic equipment waste (...) Europe (12.3 Mt) is the second largest generator of electronic waste per capita with an average of 16, 6 kg per person; however, Europe has the highest collection rate (35%). "Residuosprofesional.com (09/01/2018).

"In Spain, 262,000 tons of electronic waste were managed during 2017, a number that represents an increase of 17% compared to the one recorded in 2016." Lyrsa.es/blog

"In 2017 about 600,000 tons of electronic devices of all kinds were placed on the market" according to José Pérez, CEO of Recyclia, and according to Energias-renovables.com, under the title: Reciclaje de paneles solares, una actividad de altísimo potencial económico (Recycling of solar panels, an activity with a huge economic potential). June 2016

"It is estimated that in 2018 50 million tons of waste electrical and electronic equipment will be generated globally (WEEE)". Residuosprofesional.com (11/10/2018).


Photovoltaic panels can be almost completely recycled as they are mainly made of glass and aluminum, materials that are easy to reuse and are classified as non-hazardous waste. On the other hand, it has elements such as silver, silicone and tinplate that currently do not allow its complete reuse.

According to ECOASIMELEC (Foundation belonging to RECYCLIA): "The current recycling technology allows to recover more than 88% of the materials contained in a photovoltaic panel".

"The latest technological innovations allow recovering up to 95% of certain semiconductor materials and glass, as well as ferrous materials or not, used in these modules."

"It is estimated that the waste of photovoltaic panels, composed mainly of glass, could grow up to 78 million tons worldwide scale by the year 2050. If these are injected completely back into the economy, the value of the recovered material could exceed 15,000 million dollars in 2050". Energíasrenovables.com 2016

Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) law regulates the appropriate collection, treatment and financing of end-of-life products in the countries of the European Union and requires that manufacturers, rebranders and importers of e-products comply with all national waste management obligations. Pvcycle.org.

According to the Photovoltaic Systems Program (IEA-PVPS) belonging to the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), by 2050 solar panels could represent 78 megatons from around the world. But thanks to the recycling and recovery of photovoltaic panels, 2,000 million panels could be reproduced. Therefore, if the recycling of photovoltaic panels is applied in a correct and studied way, it could expand a notable transition towards a more sustainable energy model. Inarquia.es (19/05/2017).


The European association PV CYCLE, created in 2007 as a non-profit association, guarantees the collection and recycling of solar panels in a sustainable and economic way for manufacturers and associated importers. It represents more than 90% of the manufacturers and importers that have these active systems in all European markets. Since 2010, PV CYCLE has managed more than 13,300 tons of photovoltaic panels in Europe. 

The PV CYCLE Spain Foundation was established in the summer of 2013 and begins its activities after announcing that they entrust the execution of its collection and recycling program to their representative in Spain. Recyclia 

Together with Ecoasimelec (environmental foundation of Recyclia) have managed more than 1,000 tons in Spain.


For the European Union, the management of electronic waste is regulated by the WEEE Directive.

"The treatment of photovoltaic modules is included within the legislation of WEEE, since they are considered within the electrical and electronic. The WEEE directive regulates the proper treatment of products at the end of their useful life and stipulates that producers (eg manufacturers and importers) of electrical and electronic equipment must comply with their national waste management obligations, including their financing and its administration. The first WEEE directive and original (2002/96) dates from January 27, 2003, to which amendments were incorporated in 2003 and 2008. In 2012, the PV modules were included in the field of application of the WEEE Directive for the first time " Vida sostenible.org 2014. Summary.

In Spain, the waste of photovoltaic panels is affected by the regulation of waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), regulated by Royal Decree 110/2015 of 20 February. In the case that the panels have been replaced, the manufacturer or importer who has comercialized the new ones that have been installed (first seller in Spain) must comply with a number of legal and administrative requirements, in addition to bearing the costs of management of the panels that have been uninstalled and that have to be recycled. This new European Directive, transposed in Spain through Royal Decree 110/2015.

On August 15, 2018, Royal Decree 110/2015 presents changes in the classification of these wastes and the following categories are established:


"The total value of all raw materials present in e-waste is estimated at approximately 55 Billion Euros in 2016, which is more than the 2016 Gross Domestic Product of most countries in the world." Residuosprofesional.com (09/01/2018) echoing the report The Global E-waste Monitor 2017, edited by the United Nations University (UNU) through its Vice-Rector in Europe of the Sustainable Cycles program (SCYCLE), the International Telecommunications Union (ITU) and the International Solid Waste Association (ISWA). This report includes the photovoltaic panels as one of the categories - the fourth or Large equipment - of the six in which it divides the e-waste.

 "According to the General Subdirectorate of Foresight datas and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment analysis, the waste sector represents 27% of the total of green jobs in Spain". RAEE-ANDALUCIA.

"Even in the EU, world leader in the recycling of electronic waste, only 35% of this waste is collected and recycled" Residuosprofesional.com (11/10/2018).

The IRENA IEAPVPS report entitled "End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels" of 2016 documents the future prospects that the recycling of photovoltaic panels and their constituent elements presents by countries and as business opportunities.

In conclusion we can observe the growing recycling of solar panels management global scal, both its components and the complete reuse of the photovoltaic panel itself. These practices allow a reasonable use of raw materials (limited sources) enhancing their reuse and contributing to reduce the volume of waste, essential initiatives for the preservation of our planet.

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