Discarded solar panels a toxic problem for landfills
Source: Middle East Insurance Review | Oct 2022
Many of the solar panels that have outlived their utility and are now ready to be discarded are winding up in landfills, where in some cases, they could potentially contaminate groundwater with toxic heavy metals such as lead, selenium and cadmium, according to a recent story in Los Angeles Times.
Over the last two decades a majority of the panels installed are now nearing the end of their typical 25-to-30-year life cycle and the problem of their safe disposal is now a major issue.
Recycle PV Solar CE and solar industry expert Sam Vanderhoof has said that only one in 10 panels are actually recycled, according to estimates drawn from International Renewable Energy Agency data on decommissioned panels and from industry leaders.
The looming challenge of how to handle truckloads of waste, some of it contaminated, illustrates how cutting-edge environmental policy can create unforeseen problems down the road.
A lack of consumer awareness about the toxicity of materials in some panels and how to dispose of them is also a part of the problem, according to industry experts.
According to official data quoted in the Los Angeles Times story a new solar project was installed every 60 seconds in 2021 and the solar industry is expected to quadruple in size between 2020 and 2030. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory of US has estimated that it costs roughly $20 to $30 to recycle a panel versus $1 to $2 to send it to a landfill.
Industry expects the number of installed solar panels in the next decade to exceed hundreds of millions and recycling will become even more crucial as cheaper panels with shorter life spans become more popular. M