EEA recommends eco-design and producer responsibility for renewable energy infrastructure

Aerial view of residential area with single-family houses with photovoltaic panels on their roofs.
Waste arisings from renewable energy equipment and
facilities are forecast to increase significantly.
01.09.2021 − 

As the EU economy increasingly transitions to the use of renewable energy over the next few years, the amount of equipment reaching end of life will rise considerably. It is estimated that arisings in this emerging waste stream will reach 30 times current levels in just ten years. This dramatic increase in waste generation requires immediate attention from policymakers, argued the European Environment Agency (EEA) in a briefing published in late August. In the report, the EEA examines the growth in waste arisings as a result of the clean-energy transition and finds challenges, but also opportunities to reduce the consumption of scarce primary raw materials through recycling.

According to the EEA, the speed of technical progress in renewables means that equipment can become obsolete relatively quickly, and just as quickly become part of complex waste streams. This poses technical and logistical challenges for management of waste equipment at end of life. The difficulties include problems with transporting large volumes of waste, sometimes from remote locations, and in a situation where the end-of-life phase or recyclability were not considered in the initial design. Moreover, this complex waste may contain hazardous substances.

In the face of these challenges, however, the EEA sees a “unique opportunity” for the EU to anticipate the change and prepare a policy framework to apply circular economy principles to this new model from an early stage. The Agency recommends circular-economy approaches including material-specific recycling targets and extended producer responsibility (EPS) schemes. In its briefing, the agency also argues that eco-design should play a role in the clean-energy system. Efforts should be made to facilitate recycling and re-use and significantly improve the durability, reparability and recyclability of future energy infrastructure.

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