There are over 45 million solar panels already installed in Australia. This equates to 900,000 tonnes of waste that will need somewhere to go when these solar panels reach their end of life. With more systems being installed every year these numbers are only going to grow.
By choosing to recycle solar panels as they reach their end of life, you are contributing to Australia’s local economy, while also protecting the environment. Let’s look at how this happens by first exploring the economic benefits.
- The materials within solar panels hold economic value. If solar panels are landfilled these materials would be lost. Solar panels contain small amounts of highly valuable materials which can be recovered such as copper, silver and silicon. These materials can be reused in manufacturing for new products. Other materials such as glass, aluminium and plastic can also be reprocessed.
- Recycling increases security of future supply of raw materials. This means that local manufacturers have affordable access to materials that have already been processed to a certain level. This reduces unnecessary processing and decreases the reliance on other suppliers extracting raw materials.
- Recycling supports local manufacturers and local economies. There are many businesses who successfully add to the value chain by reprocessing materials for manufacturing. Recycling your solar panels helps support these businesses giving them access to these materials.
- Recycling supports new job creation. From factory and machinery operators to truck drivers, logistics companies and waste management authorities, new jobs will be created to manage each step of the solar panel recycling process.
- Lastly, goodwill can be gained through supporting recycling. There is the opportunity for owners of solar systems, installers, large energy utility companies, corporations and government departments to improve their brand and increase goodwill by supporting solar panel recycling. The uptake in solar and other renewables is testament to Australia’s strong support for the environment.
- Solar panels contain potentially harmful toxic substances and heavy metals. The use of these materials varies between manufacturers. Lead, cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, tin and plastics are all commonly found in solar panels. If waste is managed incorrectly, these materials can produce toxic leachates in soil and groundwater posing a risk to local communities, flora and fauna.
- Solar panel recycling extends the life of existing landfill sites. Just like solar panels landfill sites have a lifespan and expected depletion dates. Recycling measures reduce the volume of waste going into landfill and this in turn increases the lifespan of landfill sites. This means our existing landfill operations will last longer before new sites, usually further away, will need to be found.
- Solar panel recycling increases the future security of raw materials. Although this is an economic benefit through gains in efficiency, it is also an environmental one. Reducing our reliance on extracting new materials such as silver and copper increases the lifespan of mineral deposits. This improves security of raw materials and access for future generations.