Throwing things away has become a big problem. We have actual islands of trash floating around in the ocean. And soon, the plastic will outnumber the fish.
It’s a scary thought.
Slowly countries are changing their policies — banning plastic straws, bags, and other one-use items. The world is getting greener too, with governments pushing for renewable energy policy reforms, it's only a matter of time before we ditch coal and oil entirely.
A large part of the solution comes in the form of solar panels. In the scramble for capacity, little thought is being given to the negative environmental impact these panels will have in 20 or 30 years time.
By 2050, there will be around 60 million tons of Photovoltaic (PV) waste produced worldwide.
The recycling process for solar panels is expensive but effective
There are 2 types of solar panels; silicon-based and thin film-based. Over 90% of the materials used in both types can be recycled.
Below you can see the detailed process for silicon on the left and thin-film on the right.
Right now, the demand for PV recycling is low and there are few recycling plants capable of handling the process. In the next 10 years, you can expect the technology to become more widespread, making it easier and easier to responsibly dispose of your panels.
Your Solar Panels are Broken, now what?
There are a few ways your panels can break. The glass can be damaged, or the system could have overloaded due to electrical error. In rare cases, your system can even be fried by a lightning strike.
Solar panels are surprisingly fixable. Contact a nearby solar company to arrange a repair or watch this video below to learn how to do it yourself. You can fix anything from the glass to the connecting wires, so don’t throw your expensive panels away before you’ve tried!
If the panel is broken beyond repair, it’s time to think about what you can salvage. Some older panels contain a surprising amount of silver that you can retrieve and sell for a profit.
Can you send solar panels to a landfill?
The short answer: No.
Just like throwing out batteries and electrical devices, solar panels should be disposed of with care. They contain metals and chemicals that will toxify their surrounding environment when they deteriorate.
Instead, contact the company that sold them to you and ask what the process is in your area. The company might pick them up and recycle the panels themselves or tell you how to dispose of them appropriately.
Your Solar Panels are just Old
If your solar panels have reduced in efficiency and no longer meet your needs, you will need to buy new panels. If your old panels still work, they are not trash and plenty of people are eager to take them off your hands.
There is a growing market for second-hand panels as more and more people become environmentally conscious. The reduced cost of second hand panels will help those with lower financial status begin their solar journey. You get money for your new system and they can afford their own. It's a win-win situation.
Another option is to freecycle your panels. You can give them away for free to friends or environmentally conscious people who are trying to build or upscale their own system.
Or you could just use them for some fun experiments with your kids!
The future of the PV recycling market
The average life of a solar panel (if not damaged) is between 20-40 years. We have only recently ramped up the world's solar panel production, and there is a small demand for the recycling of PV panels. As our current panels age, the demand will increase, inducing a growth spurt in the industry.
Looking to the future, the recycling of solar panels will become a 15 billion-dollar industry. In a study released by IRENA, the future market will make a profitable investment that scales with the installation of panels.
Right now, the Solar Panel recycling industry is in its infancy and you might find it difficult to responsible recycle your panels. In the next few years, the industry will grow, and it'll be easier and easier to responsible dispose of your panels.
If you have any further questions, our experts would be happy to answer them for you, just call (888) 944-5765