A report providing a material flow analysis for e-waste generated by Victorian photovoltaic panel (PV) systems.
In August 2021, Sustainability Victoria engaged Randell Environmental Consulting in association with Blue Environment to complete an electronic waste (e-waste) material flow analysis (MFA). The MFA was separated into 3 parts. Initially, this work focused on Victorian photovoltaic panel (PV) systems, for which the results are presented below.
The final 2 sections of this assessment are underway and expected later in the year. They will be published when finalised. The next section will focus on the e-waste categories indicated in the E-Product Stewardship in Australia Report released by the Australian Government, and the final part will focus on Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC) units and Solar Hot Water Systems (SHWS).
This MFA builds on the model initially developed for Sustainability Victoria in 2015 before the Victorian e-waste landfill ban commenced 1 July 2019. In 2021 and later revised early 2022, the Australian Government released a differing MFA model that has since been adopted by the Queensland and South Australian governments. In the future, a consistent national approach would be beneficial.
Please note, the term “consumption” assumes that imported goods are sold and used in a timely manner and not stored for long periods.
There are significant differences in end-of-life management between small (domestic) and large (commercial and industrial) PV system decommissioning. In 2021, PV systems (except batteries) are mainly recycled for their metal components, the e-waste component recovery is still low. Although metal recycling is crucial in Victoria, for PV systems end-of-life management, specialised e-waste reprocessing yields higher recovery rates.
E-waste reprocessors focus on recovering all major components of a PV system. For example, a panel has more than 90% recovery efficiency capturing metals, glass, and plastics through an e-waste reprocessor, compared to 26% for metal recycling alone.
In 2021, just over 1,800 tonnes of PV systems were estimated to be processed in Victoria by e-waste reprocessors and approximately 900 tonnes processed by metal recyclers.
With the metal, glass, and plastic content of a PV system, e-waste reprocessors are estimated to be able to achieve a recycling efficiency of 93% compared to 34% for metal recycling.
The report notes that although there is seemingly a higher recovery and recycling capability, if end markets are not available for the recycled outputs, recycling cannot be achieved.
For panel processing alone, industry has indicated that by 2025 there could be around 70,000 tonnes per year of processing capacity across Victoria. If this is the case, there would be enough capacity to manage Victoria’s projected PV panel waste.
With the significant increase in panels coming offline, processing capacity is imperative, but this report has also demonstrated that panel processing needs to be directed through the most efficient recycling processes. Although outside the scope of this report, the logistics of efficient recycling needs development in Victoria.