The recycling of electronic waste (WEEE) and batteries and batteries represents an emerging market niche for the next few years in the World, especially about solar panels and lithium batteries from electric mobility, the volume of which will not stop increasing in the process of decarbonization of the economy and, in particular, of energy and transport.
Recyclia, one of the integrated management systems that collect and treats this type of waste indicates in its II Annual Report ‘Trends in the WEEE and battery recycling industry in Spain’, presented by the entity this week, that the demand for electrical and electronic equipment grew 1.8 percent and that the volume of batteries placed on the market rose 4.1 percent during 2020, a year marked by the coronavirus pandemic and confinement. However, this increase was somewhat more moderate than in the previous year, when it had experienced a 5.8 percent raise.
“The industry for recycling electronic waste and batteries in the economy does not stop growing and, at the moment, it has no ceiling”
It estimates that the contribution of the recycling industry of electronic waste and batteries in the economy “it does not stop growing” and “for the moment it has no ceiling”. In 2019 it reached a volume of 1,100 million euros, 15.7% more than the previous year while employing 19,000 people and contributing more than 170 million euros in taxes to the State.
The data place Spain above the figures for both collection and recycling of this waste stream of other neighboring countries with great recycling traditions like France, Germany, Italy, and Denmark. The report states that, according to the latest available data, those corresponding to 2018 in Spain were collected 320,000 tons of electronic waste, which is more than half (51%) of all the devices that were put on the market. And of these, it managed to recycle 44% of the waste, compared to 38% of the average in Europe.
The CEO of Recyclia, Jose Perez, has explained to Planet A that during the pandemic the increase was led by the devices demanded by households, which had to equip themselves with new equipment to work or educate children during confinement. In contrast, the professional segment contracted 9.5 percent. Precisely, the paralysis of economic activity during the second quarter of 2020 led to a drop in the number of automotive batteries placed on the market by 3.5 percent and by 31 percent in industrial batteries.
Solar panels and lithium
Pérez appreciates that digital transformation current situation and increased environmental awareness have contributed to the “rapid development” From the recycling of electrical and electronic equipment and batteries in recent years when it has experienced triple growth than the entire recycling sector as a whole and “five times more” than the average for the Spanish economy.
Looking ahead, he foresees that the intensification of solar energy and electric mobility will open an economic niche in terms of recycling, economy, and employment, but this will require investment in the installation of plants dedicated to managing the expected volume. In that sense, admits that until about 2028 You will not have to deal with the management of a large volume of solar panels, since these have a useful life of 25 to 30 years. Those installed around 2005 when the photovoltaic boom began will begin to be removed by that date.
Pérez predicts that by the end of this decade the annual volume of solar panel waste will reach around 30,000 tons, compared to the 1,000 tons collected in 2019. For now, there is only one plant that manages solar panels in the whole country, located in Valencia. “This is an emerging sector because the ecological transition is causing a renewal of the solar park and the first installed are approaching the end of their useful life”, He comments.
A notable rebound is also expected in terms of lithium batteries derived from the rapid advance of electric vehicles that already “account for 60 percent of the batteries on the market “ and that will increase around 30 percent every year throughout this decade. In this case, battery life is shorter, at most 10 years, so “in the medium term,” they will have to manage “Important volumes” of used batteries for which at this time there is still no operating plant in Spain. “They will be necessary and this opens another important economic niche”, He observes.
At the moment, it reflects that the increase from one year to the next has been greater than 500 percent, but the CEO of Recyclia admits that this data is a “little distorted and not significant” given that four years ago “Hardly anything was collected”. In this context, he believes that waste is one of the sectors that, with the help of European funds, can contribute to generating a green economy and therefore advocates allocating public money to the study and implementation of technological treatment systems.
Finally, regarding the current procedure in the Congress of Deputies of the waste and contaminated soil bill, Pérez wants the “unfavorable aspects” to be limited, since he fears that the text could generate “Bureaucratic obligations” and “requirements” to the collective systems that are stuck in the wheel to this environmental activity.