How to Recycle Solar Panels

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Solar panels are a renewable energy tool and help limit global warming. Don't dispose old, broken or defective solar panels in regular trash or landfills--solar panels contain toxins or potential toxins such as silicon tetrachloride, cadmium, selenium and sulfur hexafluoride. Very little solar panel recycling, compared to other electronic waste recycling, is done in the U.S. The volume of solar panels for recycling is still too small to make it cost effective. This may change with an increase in volume. At this time, solar panels have to be recycled via the manufacturer. Various companies have solar panel recycling programs in place.

Things You'll Need

  • Bolt cutter
  • Gloves and protective clothing
  • Packaging material
  • Discuss the manufacturer's solar panel policy with the company's representatives before you start putting up your panels. If you have not done this, get in touch with the manufacturer to find out about their recycling policy. There should be no charge for recycling your solar panels if companies have set up a recycling program. Money will have been set aside for future recycling. This fund may be managed by a third party in case of bankruptcy or company change, given that the lifespan of solar panels is 20 to more than 40 years.

  • Take down old panels to be recycled or let the solar company dismantle them. Remove the metal end brackets on each side of the panel if your solar panels have been "flush" mounted. Roof tops and recreational vehicles usually have flush mounted solar panels. Large panels on the roof or the ground are held up by "ground" mounts. Ask the solar company to remove these types of panels, because they are usually very large. Some solar panels are mounted on poles with "pole" mounts. Cut and remove the bolts in these mounts to take down the panels. Try not to damage the panels when you take them down. Wear gloves and protective clothing when handling boken panels to prevent exposure to toxic substances.

  • Package and ship your solar panels for recycling. Depending on the policy, you will either have to bring the solar panels to the company's recycling facility or the company will send its own employees to package and transport your solar panels to its facility. Package your solar panels in material such as polystyrene plastic and pile them onto pallets for shipping. Thick polystyrene will prevent breakage during transport.

  • Use different recycling programs for different types of solar panels. A recycling method for crystalline silicon solar panels has been used by companies like Solar World since 2003. All solar cells, glass and metals are recycled. Use another process, such as the one developed by First Solar, to recycle thin film solar panels. It involves a slow leach process to remove the film before glass and metals can be recycled.

Tips & Warnings

  • So far, solar panel recycling is not covered by specific U.S. regulations, but some states have their own regulations.
  • One of the most toxic components of solar panels is lead from soldering, but recently lead-free solar panels have become available.
  • Find out all the details about your solar paneling recycling program, so that you don't end up having your solar panels sent to underdeveloped countries, where people without safety protection handle toxic materials from your panels.
  • Not all solar panel manufacturers have recycling programs set up.

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