Solar panels are an essential renewable energy technology to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and reverse climate change. With a 50% annual growth rate, the solar business is booming.
But even as new solar technologies rise in popularity, older units are already being decommissioned. Simply disposing of spent solar panels can contaminate soil and groundwater with lead, cadmium, and other materials that are hazardous to human and environmental health.
Our ability to collect and recycle old solar panels has not kept pace with the industry’s growth, leaving already stretched local governments wondering how to safely manage all this toxic waste. Solar panel recyclers are few, so many building owners are left with no option but disposal at the expense of governments and taxpayers.
We need recycling systems in place that are ready to handle the tremendous volume of photovoltaic materials. PSI advocates for extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws that require solar panel producers to provide free collection and refurbishment or recycling of spent solar panels. By creating a level playing field that shares responsibility fairly among producers, EPR programs provide sustainable funding, ensure adequate public awareness, and build critical infrastructure for solar panel recycling.
As a result, EPR programs make it easy for building owners to recycle old panels and relieve local governments’ waste management burden. They prevent pollution, return valuable materials to the circular economy, and create recycling jobs. The state of Washington passed the U.S.’s first solar panel EPR program in 2017. In Europe, solar panel EPR has been mandated under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive since 2013.
Globally, an estimated 86 million tons of photovoltaic waste will be generated by 2050 -- an opportunity to recover $15 billion worth of precious metals, rare earth elements, and glass. Recovering these materials will greatly reduce the need for socially and environmentally destructive mining operations.
How We’re Leading the Way
PSI empowers governments to develop and pass strong EPR laws. PSI works with coalitions of local governments, waste management companies, environmental groups, and other key stakeholders to craft effective EPR bills and support their passage. We are currently working with the Illinois Sustainable Technology Center and the Illinois Product Stewardship Council to explore options for solar panel stewardship. ISTC is conducting multi-stakeholder meetings to discuss policy options, including EPR, which would boost solar panel recycling throughout the state. We are also assisting the New York Product Stewardship Council to support the passage of a solar panel EPR bill in New York.
We provide research and technical expertise to implement and evaluate stewardship programs. We help our members identify priorities, collect data, conduct research, and convene stakeholders for collaborative dialogues.
PSI educates legislators and recycling leaders about solar panel EPR. We hosted a global webinar to share details about Washington’s solar panels EPR law and discuss lessons learned from over a decade of solar panel recycling in Europe. We will continue to educate our members and other stakeholders about best practices for solar panel stewardship.
How You Can Help
Contact PSI for assistance to develop and pass an EPR bill for solar panels.
If you are installing new solar panels, look for a provider that will take them back for recycling at the end of their useful life.
If your old solar panels still work, sell or donate them to other homeowners, charities, churches, or research facilities in your community. New solar technology is still cost prohibitive for many people, and they will be grateful for your generosity. If your old panels aren’t working, ask your solar provider if they will take them back for recycling..