A Complete Guide to Solar Panel Recycling

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A Complete Guide to Solar Panel Recycling

Many Americans are investing in solar power to reduce their dependence on oil and fossil fuels as the impacts of climate change become increasingly dire. The benefits of solar energy are now more well-known than ever.

Most people know that solar power is an energy alternative that doesn’t produce pollution or emit greenhouse gases after panels are installed.

However, many people aren’t so familiar with solar panel recycling. Solar energy offers many benefits to the environment, but if solar panels aren’t properly recycled, they end up in landfills.

If you’re considering incorporating solar panels into your home or business, it is imperative that you understand how to recycle a solar panel.

Are Solar Panels Bad for the Environment?

Solar energy is an abundant resource capable of generating clean, sustainable electricity. When done correctly, solar panels provide energy without contributing to pollution and global warming.

For one, there aren’t any global emissions associated with generating electricity through solar energy. Going solar avoids harmful impact just as much as it induces positive effects on the environment

However, the main environmental concerns regarding solar panels come down to land and water use. 

Are Solar Panels Toxic?

The manufacturing of solar panels does involve the use of hazardous chemicals. However, so long as solar panel manufacturers comply with U.S. safety laws, workers will remain safe throughout the production process.

However, it’s still important to take the necessary precautions when recycling solar panels. This prevents toxic materials from potentially impacting the environment.

Fortunately, there are many financial incentives for solar panel manufacturers to follow the proper recycling procedures. All in all, solar panels benefit the environment much more than they endanger it.

[Related: Research Out of Dallas Discovers Innovative New Technique for Solar Panel Production]

Are Solar Panels Recyclable?

The short answer is: yes! The option to recycle solar panels is possible and available for those looking to discard their panels responsibly. 

The majority of the materials contained in solar panels are recyclable, which include glass, plastic, aluminum, silicon, and metal. However, the process of recycling solar panels can be complicated, regardless of how much it’s encouraged, such as through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Luckily, new and improved methods for recycling solar panels are currently in research and development.

[Related: Solar Panel Maintenance: What You Need to Know]

The Importance of Solar Panel Recycling

Recycling solar panels is important for two main reasons: reducing hazardous landfill waste and reclaiming valuable materials. The more components that we’re able to recycle, the less waste that will end up in landfills.

Despite the fact that the majority of solar panel materials are recyclable, many U.S. companies fail to recycle their solar panel waste. This leads to the build-up of millions of tons of solar panel waste.

Many of these raw materials are recoverable and highly valuable, such as selenium, germanium, tellurium, cadmium, gallium, and indium. And when recycled, they can produce new panels to further reduce various material consumption down the road. 

In fact, the International Renewable Energy Agency predicts that the global value of recycled raw materials from old solar panels will reach $450 million by 2030.

This amount roughly equals the cost to produce 60 million new solar panels, making solar panel recycling more vital than ever. 

[Related: Going Solar Collectively: Guide to Community Solar Projects]

The Current State of Solar Panel Recycling

There is a huge demand for clean energy in the United States. The United States had more than 100 gigawatts of installed solar power capacity at the beginning of 2021. 

However, if the U.S. doesn’t improve its methods for recycling solar panel materials, much of that growth may become moot. We’ll only continue to add to our landfill waste if we don’t get better at recycling solar panels.

It’s imperative that we improve the rate at which solar panels are recycled. But it’s also important that we continue to develop innovative solar panel recycling technology in order to keep as many materials as possible out of landfills.

Fortunately, the lifespan of solar panels is 25 to 30 years. Therefore, the industry should have the goal to create better solar panel recycling technologies by the time the current panels reach the end of their lifespan.

[Related: Five Best and Worst States for Solar in 2021]

How to Recycle Solar Panels

Solar power has become increasingly popular over the past 10 years. With this in mind, businesses and homeowners alike will need to know what to do with their old panels over the next couple of decades.

The majority of solar panels in the U.S. get recycled at glass recycling facilities. Unfortunately, these facilities only recycle the glass and only sometimes the metal frames — the rest of the materials end up in landfills.

One option is to list the details of your type of solar panels online and give them to someone who can repurpose them. Another option is to reach out to companies that specialize in recycling solar panels. We’ve included resources to a few of these companies in the next section.

[Related: How Many Solar Panels Do You Need for EVs?]

Solar Panel Recycling Companies

First Solar uses a recycling process that recovers about 90% of the materials in solar panels. Their facilities are located in the U.S., Germany, and Malaysia. First Solar’s process is equally convenient as it is effective.

We Recycle Solar offers more comprehensive recycling solutions for large-scale companies and manufacturers. The company also complies with panel removal regulations. Homeowners and business owners alike will benefit from the program.

Recycle PV provides a simple and effective method for the removal and recycling of old solar panels. In fact, Recycle PV has a recovery rate of 90%, positioning them as a leader in solar waste management.

[Related: How Solar Panels Affect Home Insurance]

How Solar Panels Are Recycled

There are two main methods when it comes to solar panel recycling. One option is using chemicals and thermal energy. The other is mechanical recycling.

Chemical Recycling

Chemical recycling requires a combination of heat and chemical treatments to separate the solar panel’s chemical components, and then recover the silicon they contain.

This process requires the use of hazardous gases, which makes it challenging for commercial use.

Mechanical Recycling

Mechanical recycling is a much simpler process than chemical recycling. This process involves taking apart the solar panel and recycling each component separately.

From there, the materials get crushed into a sand-like consistency, then magnets remove any valuable metals from the other materials.

[Related: How Do Solar Panels Work?]

Solar Panel Reuse: Can Solar Panels Be Reused?

Yes, you can reuse solar panels. 

It’s often more economical to reuse or repurpose your old solar panels rather than recycle them. This is because reusing solar panels requires even less processing than recycling.

The average household uses 893 kWh of electricity every month. Solar panels that are 20 to 30 years old simply can’t provide that amount of power. But that doesn’t mean you should rush to get rid of them.

Older, reused, and low-efficiency solar panels are still effective for small-scale solar power needs. They can benefit off-grid systems, solar charging devices, and even provide illumination for street signs.

Consider donating your older solar panels to a company that specializes in repurposing them. You could also donate your old panels to a friend or neighbor who might have use for them.

Another consideration is the usefulness of solar panels is not necessarily limited to the supply of electricity. There are many different DIY projects that incorporate old solar panels.

Want to build a greenhouse? Your solar panels are made of glass! Instead of investing in all-new materials, repurpose your solar panels by incorporating them into the structure of your greenhouse to keep your plants warm.

You can even consider taking along an old solar panel for your camping trips. Wouldn’t it be great to have access to electrical power when you’re camping remote?

[Related: Seven Uses of Solar Energy]

The Sustainability of SunPower Solar Panels

SunPower solar panels are manufactured in accordance with the highest standards of corporate, legal, and social responsibility. They also comply with the supplier sustainability guidelines of the Solar Energies Industry Association.

These guidelines apply to solar panel manufacturers, suppliers, subcontractors, and even customers involved in the solar supply chain.

SunPower is an industry leader when it comes to producing high-efficiency solar panels with low degradation rates. That means their solar panels perform better and last longer than other panels on the market.

In fact, SunPower’s solar panels produce up to 60% more energy than conventional solar panel models. This allows SunPower clients, such as through Freedom Solar, to minimize the environmental impact of their solar power systems.

SunPower’s higher lifetime energy output is also capable of offsetting more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional solar panels.

They use a circular model for solar panel production, and carefully choose their resources to conserve energy, water, and any materials on the front end. SunPower uses 24% recycled glass and 20% recycled metal in the frames of its panels. Their aim is to keep panels in use for as long as possible.

Contact Freedom Solar to Learn More

The benefits of solar power could end up negated if we don’t pursue more effective and far-reaching methods of recycling. This is why it’s more important than ever to pursue ways to recycle your solar panels. 

When you incorporate solar panels into your home or business, make sure you have a plan for them at the end of their lifespan. Contact a solar recycling company, repurpose old panels, or give them away.

If you’re interested in going solar with SunPower solar panels, contact Freedom Solar today. Call +1 (800) 504-2337 or complete our inquiry form and one of our solar specialists will be in touch!

Featured image via Unsplash.

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