EEA publishes briefing on the waste challenges of renewable energy technologies

31 August 2021

Article: 55/3510

The European Environment Agency (EEA) has published a briefing on the infrastructure developments required if a rapid transition to renewable energy is to be made in Europe. Requirements include introducing measures such as stronger eco-design stipulations, increased emphasis on repair and upgrading, and material-specific recycling targets to address waste and resource challenges. The briefing highlights that circular economy approaches, such as repair and upgrading of equipment and recycling of end-of-life infrastructure, can underpin the sustainability credentials of Europe’s renewable energy transition.

The briefing contains several key messages.

  • Waste arising from the development and use of renewable energy infrastructure is resource-rich and includes rare earth elements, as well as other valuable materials such as steel, copper and glass.
  • The fast pace of technological development means that equipment can be subject to relatively rapid obsolescence and can generate complex waste streams, which presents technical and logistical challenges for managing this infrastructure at the end-of-life stage.
  • Recovering materials and reintroducing them into the production cycle faces challenges, including complex logistics, design that does not consider end-of-life or recyclability, and the presence of hazardous substances.
  • Policy makers and industry can address waste and resource challenges associated with the shift to renewable energy technologies through circular economy approaches, such as eco-design, material-specific recycling targets and extended producer responsibility schemes.

Source: EEA, 24 August 2021