Solar panels are so durable and run for so long that you may never have thought of what to do with them when one fails or the grid finally stops producing power. But nothing lasts forever – and if you’re wondering how to get rid of solar panels, don’t just head to the landfill. There may be a better option: recycling.
When it comes to recycling solar panels, the “why” is pretty obvious. Because they produce electricity without emitting pollution or greenhouse gases, they are synonymous with respect for the environment. Recycling solar panels is therefore certainly preferable to sending them to landfill.
But can solar panels be recycled? When most of us think of recycling, we think in terms of plastic containers, glass bottles and cardboard boxes, not in terms of large manufactured goods. While solar panels are not as easily recyclable as a glass bottle – which can be reused for the same purpose with minimal energy input – most are constructed with easily recyclable materials like aluminum (the frame ) and the glass (the face). The internal materials (copper wiring, precious metals, and even the silicon in the photovoltaic cells themselves) also have recycling value, for things like electronics and even new solar panels.
Solar Panel Recycling Companies
Recycling solar panels is therefore a good idea and it is possible. But where? The sad truth is that companies with facilities to recycle solar panels are not common and municipal recycling programs do not accept them due to their physical size and the labor costs involved in breaking them down. into their components. But some private solar recycling companies exist and are listed on SolarRecycle.org. Many also recycle inverters and deep-cycle batteries.
As of May 2022, solar panel recycling companies operated in only 18 US states. Because modules are so durable and long-lasting, and because they’ve only really become mainstream in the last 25 or so years, the supply of dead PV for recycling just isn’t that high. But as more panels currently in service age and degrade, and demand for precious metals continues to rise around the world, the industry of harvesting useful materials from old solar panels is on. about to develop. We hope this will lead to expanded access to solar system equipment recycling options in the United States and around the world.
To learn more about the solar panel recycling process and the companies currently offering it in the United States, visit SolarRecycle.org. Besides being a database of solar recycling companies, they also list companies that accept donations of functional and used solar equipment for re-commissioning in underserved communities and the list companies that buy and sell used solar equipment.
If recycling your old solar panels isn’t feasible and you have to take them to the landfill, you might consider reusing one or two in a coffee table or garage workbench to commemorate them for all electricity. that they gave you. long life – and keep them out of the waste stream for decades to come.
Solar Panel Conference Table by ToddDuvallDesign, available on Etsy
Recycling of lead batteries
Solar batteries also age and degrade, and faster than panels. Recycling lead-acid batteries after they are retired is essential for several reasons. First, the concentrated lead they contain is toxic to people and animals, and poses a threat to public health and safety if it enters soil or groundwater. Second, the sulfuric acid in these batteries is highly corrosive and emits highly flammable hydrogen gas.
Whether or not your state has regulations on how to dispose of lead-acid batteries (most do; check the Battery Council International website for your state’s laws), you should never throw them in your household trash, take them to a landfill or incinerate them.
Luckily, lead acid batteries are much easier to recycle than solar panels because many more places accept them. As with most things, a quick internet search for lead acid battery recycling near you is a great place to start. If you’re having trouble finding a convenient place to take them, Battery Recyclers of America will pick them up for a fee. They will even pick up from remote off-grid locations.
Corrosion due to sulfuric acid on a lead battery terminal
Recycling lithium batteries
Among the many advantages of lithium-ion batteries over lead-acid batteries in renewable energy systems is the fact that they contain fewer toxic materials (in fact, the most commonly used type, batteries lithium iron phosphate/LFP, do not contain any toxic materials. ). But all lithium batteries should always be recycled instead of thrown in the trash. They contain precious metals (notably lithium itself) which are in high demand for a growing number of consumer products. Extracting ‘new’ lithium from the earth is an expensive, time-consuming and pollution-emitting process, so it is important that we try to reuse lithium that is already ‘in use’.
Do you remember the environmental protection slogan “reduce, reuse, recycle”? High energy density of lithium batteries reduced the number of batteries (and therefore the quantity of raw materials) needed to store the energy. Some lithium batteries – most commonly those used to power electric vehicles – can be reused in less power-intensive applications after their capacity became too low for continued EV use. This The market for “second life” lithium batteries is small but destined to grow. And for those who don’t have much “second life” value, the lithium battery recycling facilities are happy to break them down to harvest the lithium and other precious metals inside – as well as the plastic from their exteriors.
Battery Recyclers of America Offers collection service for the recycling of all kinds of batteriesincluding lithium batteries, but check locally first if lithium battery recycling for your old batteries is offered nearby for less.