Green energy sources can help the planet by indirectly reducing carbon emissions, but their production and disposal processes generate a significant amount of environmentally harmful substances.
Renewables have a specific life cycle of about 25-30 years, and a report from the European Environment Agency (EEA) says the amount of waste from discarded wind turbines, solar panels and batteries could increase at a very rapid rate over the next decade.
In particular, the report estimates that the amount of waste from solar panels will increase by 3000% over the decade to 2030, to 1.5 million tons per year, waste batteries – by about 500%, to 240,000 tons per year, and wind turbine parts up to 4.75 million tons.
If this problem is not addressed immediately, we will see huge landfills filled with former “green” materials. These devices also contain hazardous substances that must not be released into the environment. Moreover, they are not easy to recycle and were not designed to do so. The materials used are complex and the valuable elements are difficult to retrieve.
When it comes to electric vehicles, they are called environmentally friendly, because they do not emit harmful gases during operation. In fact, everything is not as perfect as we would like. The damage from the production of lithium batteries for one electric car, according to some studies, is comparable to what a conventional car with an internal combustion engine emits into the atmosphere for several years. This is not least due to how many batteries are used in the car.
First, consider the dangers of battery manufacturing. First of all, it is harmful to the workers of the plant. Lithium batteries use more than one toxic material. These are, for example, cobalt, nickel, boron lithium. Manufacturing lithium-ion batteries is more hazardous than manufacturing other types of batteries. Further, the operation begins. In the process of driving, an electric car does not emit harmful gases, unlike an internal combustion engine, however, these gases are emitted by a station for the production of electricity. Since the largest share of the generated energy falls on power plants that burn fuel (coal, gas), the harm to the environment can be called tangible. Nevertheless, even in this situation, the electric car will be at least twice as environmentally friendly. But here the second factor comes into play. Namely – the production and disposal of the batteries themselves. As a result, the biggest problem is the end of the battery life.
As mentioned earlier, lithium batteries use toxic cells that must not be buried in the ground. Toxic substances negatively affect the soil and its renewal, and also get into the groundwater. It is also worth noting that batteries are dangerous not only for the environment, but also for humans. There are many cases of spontaneous combustion in batteries that can cause a fire. Most often, ignition is associated with a sharp increase in temperature due to the short circuit of the electrodes. Unfortunately, the short circuit does not always occur due to physical impact on the battery.
In Greece, companies installing renewable energy sources are not obliged to pay for their recycling, as companies in other sectors do. The only recycling system implemented is for solar panels, but these have been massively installed since 2007, so recycling will be a problem after 2030. In contrast, for wind turbines, which are generally older, a recirculation system does not yet exist.
Also, Greece does not have its own system for recycling lithium (as well as older types) batteries, as a result of which devices with an expired life are simply buried in the ground for now.
Is there a solution?
EU Directive on batteries and accumulators. In the European Union, back in 2006, the so-called. “battery and accumulator directive” EU number 2006/66 / EC. According to it, in retail outlets and at companies engaged in the repair and replacement of batteries, there must be special containers for collecting used products. From there, the latter must be transported to the place of processing (Belgium, France, Germany).
But, as is most often the case in Greece, these containers are usually emptied into the nearest trash cans …