Industry “frustrated” as Ley sets deadline for national solar recycling scheme

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UPDATED: Federal environment minister Sussan Ley has made good on her National Press Club threat to put the solar industry “on notice” on waste management, giving the sector less than 12 months to finalise an industry-led nationwide solar panel recycling scheme.

The June 2022 deadline was issued in an official statement from the minister on Tuesday night, following the tabling of the federal government’s latest Product Stewardship list in Parliament that day.

The media release repeated the Press Club observation that the current lack of an industry-wide approach to the problem meant that Australia’s world-leading solar success story loomed “as a landfill nightmare.”

The statement also noted that “previous submissions” from industry to address the problem had “lacked a cohesive, coordinated and sustainable approach,” even while conceding that solar panels had “languished” on the government’s own priority list for six years.

“It is time for the industry to step up and address the issue of waste either stockpiling or ending up in landfill, and today I have given them a deadline of mid-2022 to do that,” the minister said.

The statement prompted a swift response from peak renewables body the Clean Energy Council, which said in a statement on Wednesday that it was “frustrated” with the federal government’s approach to solar panel waste.

The CEC said it had worked to develop a comprehensive, nationwide plan to address the issue of panel recycling over the past year, but the federal government had walked away from the attempt at coordinating a national approach.

Another proposal put forward by the Clean Energy Council to establish an industry-led and self-funded product stewardship program aimed at optimising collection and increasing resource recovery rates was also ignored, the CEC said

“Industry is prepared to lead and coordinate this initiative, but it also requires coordination and leadership from government given the significant regulatory interactions between the three tiers of government on environment and waste policy,” said CEC chief executive Kane Thornton.

“We would welcome a joint approach from the federal government and we remain ready, willing and able to work in partnership with them on this significant issue.

“As the Minister for the Environment herself admits, ‘solar panels have languished on the government’s priority list for six years now.’

“Meanwhile, the Victorian government has displayed leadership by introducing a landfill ban on solar panels that ensures they are now redirected toward recycling facilities established by the industry.”

The complaint mirrors comments last week from fellow peak renewables body the Smart Energy Council, which said it, too, had presented the federal government with a comprehensive proposal for a national solar stewardship scheme, only to have it rejected, with no alternative proposed.

“I have no idea why the federal environment minister is talking about putting the solar industry on notice on solar panel recycling,” said SEC chief John Grimes in an emailed statement last week.

“I’m happy to put the Australian Government on notice: We need a national energy policy, we need a national climate change policy, we need a higher emissions reduction target than we had in 2014 and the Australian government should drop its ridiculous, illegal attempt to force ARENA to fund fossil fuel projects.” (See here on the latter point.)

The Morrison government has put some money where its mouth is, with its April offer of grant funding to boost the establishment of an Australian clean energy technology manufacturing industry making a point of including solar panel recycling initiatives.

And there have been other government and R&D initiatives – including a $10 million New South Wales grant scheme and various local university-based breakthroughs – helping to drive the solar panel recycling industry along.

Meanwhile, one of the nation’s first PV recycling facilities got up and running in Melbourne’s north in May, run by Melbourne based co-operative Lotus Energy.

Another company, Reclaim PV, announced earlier this month that a new Brisbane solar panel recycling plant would be added to the plant it about to put into action in Lonsdale, South Australia, with further facilities in other major metropolitan areas to come in the next one to two years.

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