How to Safely Dispose of Used Solar Panels

How to Safely Dispose of Used Solar Panels

I want to make sure I safely dispose of my used solar panels. Improperly discarded solar panels can leach toxic materials into the environment. However, there are responsible ways to recycle solar panels at the end of their lifespan. In this comprehensive guide, I will cover various methods to appropriately handle end-of-life solar panels.

Understanding the Materials in Solar Panels

Most solar panels contain materials like aluminum, glass, and semiconductor materials like silicon and cadmium telluride. While these materials are not hazardous during normal operation, they can potentially leach out of damaged panels if landfilled.

Hazardous materials found in some solar panels include:

  • Lead – Used in solder and wiring
  • Cadmium – Found in thin film panels
  • Selenium – Used in some thin film technologies

It’s important to keep these materials out of landfills and safely recycle them. Proper disposal prevents toxic leaching into soil and groundwater.

Recycling Solar Panels

The most responsible way to handle used solar panels is to recycle them. There are a few different recycling options available:

Solar Panel Take-Back Programs

Many solar panel manufacturers and installers offer take-back programs. When it’s time to remove your system, you can return the old panels to the manufacturer for recycling. For example, SolarCity offers solar panel recycling for consumers.

I would check with my installation company first to see if they have a take-back program in place. This is often the easiest way to properly recycle defunct panels.

Specialized Solar Panel Recyclers

There are also specialized companies focused exclusively on solar panel recycling. For instance, Recycle PV Solar works with consumers and installers to recycle panels responsibly. They break down panels and separate out valuable materials like silicon, silver, and copper for reuse.

Searching for “solar panel recycling near me” is a great way to find specialized recyclers in my area. I may need to pay a small fee, but it will ensure responsible recycling.

Electronics Recyclers

Many electronics recycling centers accept solar panels as well. E-recyclers dismantle panels and recover usable materials.

I can search for “electronics recycling near me” to find local e-recycling options that may accept solar panels. Make sure to call and verify they handle solar panel disposal before dropping panels off.

Preparing Solar Panels for Recycling

Before recycling solar panels, it’s important to properly remove and dispose of all ancillary equipment:

  • Junction boxes – Unscrew and recycle the metal separately
  • Wiring – Cut away wiring and copper for recycling
  • Inverters – Disconnect and recycle inverters separately
  • Racking – Dismantle and recycle metal racking separately

Removing additional parts leaves just the solar module itself for recycling.

Alternative Disposal Options

If recycling isn’t feasible in my area, here are a couple disposal alternatives:

Landfilling

As a last resort, solar panels can go to the landfill. However, they must be fully intact to prevent hazardous materials leaching out. Also, landfilling wastes potentially recoverable resources.

I would call my local landfill first to ensure they are willing to accept solar panels. Panels will take up more space than typical landfill-bound materials.

Storing Panels

Storing old solar panels on-site is an option if I’m planning a future panel upgrade. However stored panels still present an environmental hazard if damaged or mishandled. And they continue taking up unnecessary space on my property.

Ideally I should avoid long-term on-site panel storage until I’m ready to install a new system. Storing panels indefinitely delays proper recycling.

Conclusion

With a better understanding of solar panel composition and disposal best practices, I’m ready to safely and sustainably recycle my system when the time comes. Utilizing take-back programs, specialized recyclers, and e-recyclers ensures panels avoid landfills and components get reused. Responsible solar panel disposal reduces my environmental impact and protects the community from hazardous materials.