David Hidalgo-Carvajal1 and Ruth Carrasco-Gallego1

1Dpt. of Industrial Engineering, Business Administration and Statistics, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid. c/ José Gutiérrez Abascal, 2, 28006 Madrid, Spain.

david.hidalgo.carvajal@alumnos.upm.es; ruth.carrasco@upm.es

Keywords: recycling; photovoltaic modules; informal recyclers.

1. Introduction

With an increasing world population, exacerbating food waste problem, increasing energy consumption, and growing manufacture of new products, the need for a change in the traditional consumption pattern is necessary. Moreover, the resulting waste of Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) at their End-of-Life (EOL) increases dramatically. Yet, mankind will not stop using them as they “play a central role in society as it facilitates day-to-day tasks, improve living conditions and work environments, and facilitate communication”[1].

Among the EEE, photovoltaic (PV) modules stand out due to the rapid embracing of this renewable energy around the world, championed by the fact that its cost has globally plummeted over the last four decades. However, this will create an unintended consequence in the near future, related to a large amount of WEEE at their EOL, being estimated in between 1.7 and 8 million tons in 2030 and between 60 and 78 million tons in 2050 [2]. Considering that, to the date, only 17.4% of WEEE is properly recycled through formal recycling system, a way to increase this recycling rate is to include the Informal Recycling Sector (IRS) into waste management, serving as an enabler for circular economy and supporting the sustainable development goals (SDGs)[3].

Thus, this document intends to shed light on the potential for reduction of WEEE by including IRS in the recycling process of PV modules, by reviewing academic and grey literature to determine best and worst practices around the world regarding WEEE management. Lastly, we examined the recycling supply chain and propose areas along the process in which IRS could be included.

2. Methodology

The authors followed a qualitative research methodology, through a review of academic literature and grey literature, following the insights from multivocal literature reviews [4]. Scopus and Web of Science databases were used to perform this review given their wider subject and journal range. In addition, Google Scholar was used to find grey literature on the subject. The authors used the following research strings: (“photovoltaic module” OR “PV module”) AND (“recycling” OR “recycle”), obtaining 369 documents, which were refined to reach a final sample of 34 academic documents.

3. Results

Two main types of PV modules were identified [silicon-based panel (c-Si) and non- silicon], focusing recycling efforts on c-Si PV type, with three recycling types: mechanical, thermal and chemicals. Additionally, considering the PV waste’ long life cycle and the presence of precious/rare materials (silver, indium, gallium and germanium), a new approach on recycling seems necessary. Although there is a growing interest around the topic worldwide, most of the development has been carried in Europe.

We identified both, “good case practices” on which the companies around the world carry socially and environmentally responsible practices, and “bad practices” on which practices are not aligned with the SDGs due to poor management of WEEE. Bad experiences are evident all around the world, however, they are mostly present on developing countries, where lack of regulations allow for failures in the system. Based on this, we identified as well the importance of informal sector for solid waste management and specially on WEEE, given their long experience as waste pre-collectors (WPC) in some cases, and waste segregation experts in some others.

Our proposed model includes the IRS as part of “visible” waste management system for WEEE and PV panels. WEEE classification by IRS generates a stream of material for reuse (own usage), sale to repair shops (within the same or another industry) and supply of materials to Formal Recycling Industry (FRI). Our model supports the development of circular economy in three fronts: 1) recovery of a higher amount of material, 2), the reduction of inadequate disposal of WEEE in landfills, 3) including IRS in waste management, opportunities for job generation and social inclusion are generated.

4. Conclusions

Our research proposes a model which includes IRS in the WEEE management, supplementing FRI work, and directly contributing to Circular Economy and development of SDGs. Although our model has not yet been validated, including informal recyclers in the supply chain seems beneficial for waste management as it creates additional recovery streams and improves social conditions.

5. References

  1. Guzzo, D.; Rodrigues, V.P.; Mascarenhas, J. A Systems Representation of the Circular Economy: Transition Scenarios in the Electrical and Electronic Equipment (EEE) Industry. Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change 2021, 163, 1–17, doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2020.120414.
  2. IRENA; IEA-PVPS End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic Panels; International Renewable Energy Agency and International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems, 2016.
  3. Valencia, M. Informal Recycling Sector (IRS), Contribution to the Achievement of the SDGs, and a Circular Economy. In Responsible Consumption and Production; Encyclopedia of the UN Sustainable Development Goals; Springer: Cham, Switzerland, 2019 ISBN 978-3-319-95727-2.
  4. Yasin, A.; Hasnain, M.I. On the Quality of Grey Literature and Its Use in Information Synthesis during Systematic Literature Reviews. Master Thesis Report, Blekinge Institute of Technology: Sweden, 2012.


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Proceedings of the 15th International Conference on Industrial Engineering and Industrial Management and XXV Congreso de Ingeniería de Organización Copyright © by (Eds.) José Manuel Galán; Silvia Díaz-de la Fuente; Carlos Alonso de Armiño Pérez; Roberto Alcalde Delgado; Juan José Lavios Villahoz; Álvaro Herrero Cosío; Miguel Ángel Manzanedo del Campo; and Ricardo del Olmo Martínez is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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