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Can Solar Panels Be Recycled?


Daniel Tonkin

Solar panels are becoming more popular than ever before, with more and more people deciding to make the move towards using a renewable and plentiful source of energy over electric supplied from the grid. Solar panels themselves can last for decades. But, in order for them to be as environmentally friendly as they are perceived to be it’s important for them to be recycled properly at the end of their life.

While solar panels make use of an abundant source of energy, many concerns people have about the environmentally friendly claims around them come from the wastage once they are discarded of.

But, fortunately, many of the materials that make up solar panels have been recycled for years and the others can be recycled carefully to ensure they don’t harm the environment at the end of their life. Read on to find out a bit more about how this works.

What exactly is a solar panel made out of?

Firstly, it’s important to consider the components which make up a solar panel. A regular solar panel is usually made up of the following materials, there may be more depending on where it’s manufactured. These include:

  • Glass
  • Aluminium
  • Copper
  • Silicon
  • Cadmium telluride

Glass, aluminium and copper have been recycled for decades making the glass and metal frames of the panels one of the easiest parts to recycle at a local recycling plant. The other materials can require hazardous gases which is what makes the process slightly more complicated.

Are solar panels recyclable?

Yes, and the more solar panels that are recycled the less hazardous waste will end up in landfills across the country. Solar panel wastage includes lots of raw materials which are recoverable. These high value materials can be used to create new solar panels in the future.

Solar panel recycling technology is advancing but as some solar panels are recycled at glass plantations and this can limit which parts of the panels are recycled. Usually, the glass and metal frames get recycled here but other materials can end up in landfill. This is when the other materials need to be sent to specialised solar panel recycling firms who have the technology to be able to recycle the more hazardous materials ensuring nothing goes to waste.

How do you recycle solar panels?

There are two main ways to recycle solar panels. One is using a mix of chemical and thermal energy, the other is called mechanical recycling.

Chemical & thermal recycling

Chemical and thermal recycling is the more complex method of the two processes. The chemical components of a solar panel are broken down using a mixture of heat and chemicals to separate the chemical parts. Some hazardous gases are used during the process which is why specialist recycling providers are required.

Mechanical recycling

Mechanical recycling is quite a straightforward process. The solar panel is taken apart and each bit is recycled separately and then crushed. Following this, magnets are used to see if any other valuable materials can be sourced from the debris.

Reusing solar panels

Another way in which solar panels can be recycled is by using them again. Solar panels have advanced over the years which means panels which are over ten years old may no longer produce as much energy as more recent models. While these may no longer be suitable to power a home, they can be used to power smaller solar power needs. Many companies specialise in repurposing them where they can be used for DIY projects, to build green houses or at festivals or outdoor events when an additional power source is required.

It’s now more important than ever to look after the environment and recycling your solar panels effectively is part of this. When your solar panels come to the end of their life consider whether they could be recycled to keep your carbon footprint as green as possible. You can do this by contacting your solar panel provider or by getting in touch with a solar panel recycling specialist to see if they can help

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