Solar Panels Are Recyclable — But They're Still Ending Up In Landfills

Harnessing solar energy is a priority for Biden’s administration. The Department Energy said this year that they are putting up some money to improve cost and performance for solar tech. That’s good news for people who use or want to use solar panels, which are meant t save money on electricity and offset damage to the planet. But disposing of those panels can be tricky and recyclers say the cost of breaking them down is more than what they’re making in return. Newsy Stephanie Sandoval explains many homeowners across the country are switching to solar energy With more than four million installations expected in the US by 2023.

The goal saves money on electricity bills and helps the environment. But there’s one thing many owners failed to think about the end of life disposal, even though solar panels, also known as photovoltaic or PV modules can be recycled. Researchers say many are ending up in landfills, which is why recycling is expensive. The solar module might generate $2 in raw commodities after, you know my company or a company like us spend somewhere between 15 and $25 to break that down, according to the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.

Solar panels are considered hazardous waste until proven otherwise, this can be determined through a toxicity test.

If the panels pass the test, they can go to a regular landfill. If panels fail the test or aren’t tested, they have to go to a hazardous waste treatment facility or a solar panel recycling center with a permit to handle those materials. These options are more expensive though than taking them to a local dump, which is why some people will still toss them at a regular landfill as things continue to advance with photo text being more and more installed, you’re going to have a reduction in the recycling cost just because of economies of scale, but until that happens, owners have to pay more to get the modules recycled heath says the don’t want to see that material go to waste. We do want to recover those resources, we don’t want to see them locked away in a landfill. The international renewable energy agency projects that by 2050 the world could see up to 78 million metric tons of raw materials and other valuable parts from solar panels reaching the end of life.

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If these valuable resources are put back into the economy, it could bring in more than $15 billion dollars in the Europe. Union solar panel manufacturers are required to recycle panels properly. There’s nothing like that at the federal level in the U.S. So it’s up to the states.

In 2017, the state of Washington passed a law that will require solar panel manufacturers to recycle all modules sold after a certain date. I don’t know that the responsibility should lay solely on the manufacturer or should lay solely on the consumer, but I do think, yes, there needs to be some kind of subsidy in place for this to really work.

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