March 21st 2023, Solar panels have become a popular choice for environmentally conscious consumers around the world. However, as the number of solar panels in use continues to increase, so does the challenge to dispose of them in an eco-friendly way.
In Australia alone, 100,000 metric tonnes of solar panels are due to be disposed of by 2035 which poses a significant environmental risk. To address this issue, a team of researchers led by Professor Peter Majewski from the University of South Australia has proposed a comprehensive product stewardship scheme for solar panels.
The scheme aims to incentivize producers to design panels that can be more easily recycled when they reach the end of their life. According to Prof. Majewski, "Australia has one of the highest uptakes of solar panels in the world, but little thought has been given to the significant volume of panels that end up in landfills when they need to be replaced."
To reduce the waste volume, Prof. Majewski suggests several simple recycling steps, including removing the panel frames, glass covers and solar connectors before they are disposed of. Landfill bans have been implemented in some European countries, and Victoria has followed suit. However, Prof. Majewski warns that waste should not be diverted to other locations with less stringent regulations.
To ensure that solar panels are disposed of in an eco-friendly way, serial numbers could be used to track their recycling use. Prof. Majewski also highlights the potential for a second-hand economy for solar panels that are still functioning. Reusing solar panels offers social and environmental benefits, but consumers need to be assured that second-hand panels will work properly and provide minimum capacity in watts.
However, weatherproof polymers used in solar panels pose environmental risks, releasing harmful hydrofluoride gas when incinerated. The demand for silicon, another primary material used in solar cells, is also huge, making it essential to recycle it to reduce its environmental footprint.
The proposed product scheme for solar panels could help reduce the environmental impact of the solar industry and pave the way for a sustainable future. Governments, producers and consumers all have a role to play in ensuring that solar panels are disposed of in an environmentally friendly way.