Are Solar Panels Recyclable? | Sustainable Considerations

March 24, 2021

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Are solar panels recyclable? This is a vital question to ask, as many property owners choose solar panel systems because of the eco-friendly power they create, allowing them to enjoy needed electricity without creating fumes, emissions, and other pollutants. However, those panels wouldn’t be very eco-friendly if they eventually wound up in landfills!

Solar panels are made of glass, metal, and plastic parts that are easily recyclable. Also, solar panel wiring is not typically considered electronic or hazardous waste. The main challenge with recycling solar panels is dismantling them manually, which is more labor-intensive than recycling many other materials.

The solar panel installation industry is booming, with more and more homeowners and commercial property owners appreciating the benefits of solar panel installation. Solar panels are also becoming more affordable than ever before, making them an excellent investment for virtually anyone!

However, if you’re concerned about the environmental impact of solar panels, you might consider some added information about a solar panel lifespan, what happens when they die or need replacing, and how durable and recyclable they are overall. You can then discuss your choices with a solar panel installer near you, and ensure you make the best investment for your residential or commercial property.

Are Solar Panels Recyclable?

considering recycling solar panels

The three main components of solar panels include glass, plastic, and aluminum, all of which are recycled in abundance and need only small amounts of energy to break down for reuse. The silicon wafers inside solar panels are also recycled somewhat easily, typically melted down into reusable slabs.

Dismantling panels is the most difficult part of solar panel recycling and is done manually and in separate steps, including:

  • Removing the outside aluminum frame. This frame is typically 100% recyclable.
  • Removing and separating the glass from the frame. Solar panel glass is typically 95% to 100% recyclable.
  • The panel is then put through a thermal process so it can be heated to about 900 degrees Fahrenheit (500 degrees Celsius), making it easier to separate small plastic components from the frame and glass.
  • Silicon wafers are then removed so they can be smelted down into reusable slabs. These wafers are typically about 80% recyclable.

How Do You Dispose of Old Solar Panels?

While solar panels are recyclable, not every recycling facility accepts them, simply because they require so much manual labor to break down and prepare for reuse. This doesn’t mean you should simply put them in the trash, however! Solar panel recycling is a growing industry, especially since many of the earliest panels sold to private consumers are now reaching the end of their expected lifespan, so more and more solar panel users are looking for eco-friendly ways to dispose of those panels.

If you have panels you wish to dispose of or are considering new panels, and your city or county doesn’t accept them for recycling, you might check around for facilities in a neighboring city or county. Some solar panel installers or manufacturers will also accept donations of older panels, as they can recycle them or will even store them until a recycling facility opens in their area.

Note, too, that solar panels rarely fail or “die out” over time, but simply lose efficiency over the years. In turn, you might donate old panels to a public facility or private consumer, or sell them for a very low cost. While those panels won’t provide a new user with much solar electricity, it still keeps them out of landfills!

Some recycling centers might also accept solar panels but, rather than paying you for the materials, they might charge you for the work involved in breaking them down for recycling. If you’re determined to keep those panels out of landfills and can afford this small fee, you might call around to recycling centers until you find one that will take those panels.

Are Solar Panels Considered Hazardous Waste?

hazardous waste loaded into a facility by crane

Whether solar panels are considered hazardous waste depends on local recycling laws and regulations, and the manufacturer of those panels. Some solar panels contain trace amounts of cadmium, arsenic, chromium, and copper, which can be considered hazardous waste.

If you’re concerned about hazardous waste from solar panels, note the manufacture and materials used for various brands. Ask your solar panel installer about panels made without these hazardous materials, so you can choose the safest option for your property.

What Happens to Solar Panels After 25 Years?

Most solar panels are expected to function for about 25 to 30 years, after which time they might need replacing. However, solar panels don’t simply fail or “die,” as said, but lose efficiency and effectiveness over time. This loss of effectiveness is called their degradation rate, and is measured in terms of percent of efficiency lost every year.

To put it simply, a panel with a 1% degradation rate loses 1% of its efficiency every year; after 25 years, it will have lost 25% of its effectiveness, operating at only 75% efficiency. So, for every 100 kilowatts of power it trapped and converted when it was first installed, that panel would then be collecting only 75 kilowatts of power.

While solar panels don’t necessarily need replacing after those 25 or 30 years, property owners might decide to upgrade to new panels so they can continue to enjoy eco-friendly power and lower utility bills. If you’re concerned about the expected lifespan of solar panels, talk to your solar installer and invest in the highest-quality panels with the lowest degradation rate available.

Do Solar Panels Need Maintenance?

solar panel system maintenance

Solar panels typically don’t need maintenance over the years, other than brushing storm debris and other residues from their surfaces so as to keep them unobstructed and clean. However, solar panel owners do well to have those panels inspected every year for damage, including gaps forming around the areas where the solar racking system connects to the roof.

As solar panels are wired to an inverter and then a structure’s electrical systems, it’s also good to have those connections and wiring checked for damage. Regular inspections ensure that damaged or otherwise worn parts are replaced as needed, and that those panels continue to function optimally for as long as possible.

Are Solar Panels Bad for a Roof?

solar panel installation on a steep roof pitch

Solar panel installation attaches a solar racking system to the roof itself; this racking system, which looks similar to a metal bed frame, is typically bolted or screwed all the way to a roof’s joists or framing. A reputable installer will ensure all gaps and openings are closed off as needed, to keep out water and moisture along those bolts.

However, gaps might form over time, allowing water into the structure. Regular roof inspections can ensure those gaps are closed up as needed, to keep out moisture and reduce the risk of wood rot, mold, and other damage.

Other than the risk of such gaps forming, solar panel systems can actually benefit a structure’s roof! Those panels block heavy rains and strong winds that might otherwise blow shingles off the roof, and also block harsh sunlight that tends to dry out and crack shingles and clay tiles.

Solar panels can also help snow and ice slide off a roof rather than pile on and create added weight. Those panels do the same for storm debris during summer months, so you might see fewer leaves, twigs, and other residues working their way between shingles and tiles, also reducing the risk of damage!

Solar Panels & Being Environmentally Friendly

solar panels in a field generating energy

While solar panels produce energy without fumes, greenhouse gases, emissions, fossil fuels, and other hazardous, dangerous residues, they do require some energy to produce. Does this mean that solar panels are not as environmentally friendly as you might expect?

According to Chariot Energy, a typical solar panel might need four years to produce the energy used during its manufacture. While this might seem like a lot of energy needed for one panel, note that most panels last for 20 to 30 years before they’re replaced; in other words, a solar panel will easily produce 4 to 6 times the energy needed for its manufacture over the course of its lifespan!

Note, too, that the growing demand for solar energy has meant that solar panel producers are constantly creating new ways to produce panels quickly and efficiently. More efficient manufacturing processes can then mean less energy used during their production.

It’s also worth noting that solar panel installations started to become popular in the 1960s and 1970s, with the government first offering tax credits for solar panel installations in the 1980s. The industry has continued to grow from there, with solar becoming more affordable and accessible to consumers every year.

In turn, more and more solar panels are reaching the end of their expected lifespan every year! With recycling facilities and solar panel manufacturers facing an onslaught of panels needing disposal, they are responding with more recycling facilities willing to accept panels and more manufacturers using them in their production processes. Recycling solar panels should then become more common and more efficient with every passing year.

Go Solar MA is proud to offer this information to our readers and to answer the question, are solar panels recyclable? If you’re thinking of investing in a solar power system in MA, give us a call! We offer FREE quotes on all of the most dependable, durable solar power systems on the market today, and ensure high-quality installations that last. To find out more or schedule your no-hassle, no-obligation appointment, call us at Go Solar MA right now!


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