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Solar Panels


The Problem

Solar panels emerged as an energy source in the early 1990’s. As the technology became more affordable, more U.S. households and businesses installed these devices. Now – nearly thirty years later – many of the first installed solar panels are in need of replacement. Solar modules contain hazardous materials, rare earth elements, and other materials that must be managed safely and responsibly, some of which have tangible economic value.

The need to properly collect and refurbish or recycle solar panels will increase in the future, and we must be prepared to manage millions of retired panels and associated equipment. Environmental Progress reports that by 2034, the amount of spent solar panels in need of recycling will be 70 to 80 times larger than in 2020.

Many U.S. recyclers, however, have yet to develop systems to efficiently collect and process old panels. In September 2016, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) launched a voluntary national recycling program for post-consumer solar panels, but the program has not yet launched. To preempt the imminent problem, legislators in Washington State passed a law requiring free collection and refurbishment or recycling of solar panels by 2021.

A Solution

Extended producer responsibility (EPR) laws shift the cost burden of solar panel management from taxpayers and governments to producers, and provide an opportunity for solar panel manufacturers to develop robust recycling programs that are funded equitably among all manufacturers. In 2017, Washington became the first state to address solar panel waste, and it found that EPR is the best management strategy. Representative Norma Smith, concerned about the long-term impacts of disposing nonrenewable rare earth metals, championed the legislation. Representative Smith was also concerned about the socially and environmentally destructive nature of mining operations, and sees recycling as a way to reduce the undesirable consequences of resource extraction.

Similarly to many existing EPR laws, Washington’s law gives the private sector flexibility to design a collection scheme that meets clearly defined goals. Washington Department of Ecology is currently developing guidelines for manufacturers, who must have an operational program in place by January 2021.

Europe is a global leader in solar panel management. In 2007, some solar panel producers founded PV Cycle, a non-profit Producer Responsibility Organization (PRO), which originally coordinated voluntary collection. In 2013, the European Union added solar panels to its WEEE Directive 2012/19/EU, which requires producer-funded collection and recycling. Now, PV Cycle manages the obligations of all solar panel manufacturers in Europe.


PSI's Role in Delivering Solutions

Provides Technical Assistance

PSI hosted a webinar in January 2018 to share lessons learned from Washington’s solar panels EPR law and experience from over a decade of recycling programs in Europe. Panelists included experts from the U.S. and European solar panel recycling sector and key legislators who championed the bill. PSI will seek opportunities to continue to educate our members and other stakeholders about the need for new collection and recycling infrastructure.


Advocates for EPR Legislation

PSI monitors and advocates for solar panel stewardship legislation. In addition, PSI facilitates discussions among stakeholders and connects experts from around the globe to stimulate collaboration and sharing of best practices.



Washington State’s Solar Power Incentive Law provides a framework for legislation, while SEIA’s National PV Recycling Program contains information about the U.S. voluntary initiative. PV Cycle is a portal to solar panel management in the European Union. To view pending and active solar panel legislation in the U.S.—privileged content available exclusively to PSI Members and Partners—login here.

For more information, please contact Scott Cassel at (617) 236-4822