Although Australia is the world leader in the installation of residential rooftop solar panels, we’re not very good at recycling them.
Most broken or expired panels end up in landfill which does not only create an environmental problem but it also takes away space where we could be recycling these materials instead of letting them go to waste.
They can be almost wholly recycled as they are mostly made out of non-toxic silicon (sand) and glass. Only minor amounts of lead, chromium and barium need to be disposed of.
The Clean Energy Regulator released figures that show 2.8 million micro-scale photovoltaic installations have been carried out in Australia, equating to 100,000 tonnes of waste going into landfills by 2035
As more people turn to solar energy for cheaper electricity, there will be a large pile of end-of-life waste in the next 10-25 years. This is why it’s important to properly recycle them instead of letting that become a problem down the line
Victoria leads the way by banning the dumping of e-waste – time to play catch-up
From July 1, 2019, the Victorian Government banned dumping any e-waste at landfill sites – including solar panels. The ban covers “any end-of-life equipment that is dependent on electric currents or electromagnetic fields in order to work properly.” This includes TVs, refrigerators and of course, solar panels.
In a statement on the ban, the Clean Energy Council acknowledged that the “recycling industry is in its infancy”, but it is working with the State and Federal Governments on growing the industry.
In the meantime, check out recycling near you, to find out where you can recycle your solar panels or as well as any electronic wastes that can’t be recycled in your kerbside recycling bin.
Challenges of recycling your solar panels
The problem as of now is that there aren’t many places where you can recycle in Australia.
Reclaim PV is an recycling service based in Adelaide but services the whole of Australia. Offering collection, drop-off points and pick up from any site in the country. It costs just $10 (plus freight) to recycle a single panel.
Clive Fleming runs Reclaims PV, and urges homeowners to take advantage of these services to ensure their system does not end up in landfills. Mr Fleming said the most significant challenge right now was getting Australians to realise that these services exist.
“Homeowners do come about and pay for their panels to be recycled,” he said. “The biggest challenge is developing the network and making sure people know there’s actually a choice available to them other than landfill.”
The more people that do this, the more affordable it becomes. Facilities will soon be producing enough materials to simply break even and eventually the cost of recycling will completely evaporate. Eventually, it could become a free service – possibly even a social responsibility:
To make that happen, though, Australians have to decide to be more environmentally-mindful and think green.