There are several options for the disposal of solar panels today. If they are still operational, solar panels can be sold to secondary markets, despite degrading performance of the PV cells. Panels that have degraded to the point where reuse is not feasible, or those that are fully non-functional, can (and should) be recycled.
As We Recycle Solar’s Vice President, AJ Orben, notes on solar panels, unfortunately “9 out of 10 people would much rather improperly and illegally dispose of them than properly recycle, given the cost.”
For large-scale solar installations, such as those operated by utilities and enterprise businesses, responsible removal and recycling of solar panels has many benefits. Solar panel recycling is an environmentally progressive initiative that reduces unnecessary waste and protects the business from gray market threats and the potential of eroding their reputation.
Unfortunately, for smaller-scale projects (such as DIY and individual residential installations), some states have difficulty keeping panels out of landfills.
Recycling should be more of a focus, both at the local level and for individuals disposing of the material. A unique feature of most solar panels is that 90% of their thin modules made from cadmium telluride can be recycled.
Specialized recycling and refining processes must be used to extract many of a solar panel’s trace materials. There has been a considerable amount of effort from authorities as well as international collaborations to improve the management of discarded solar panels.
With the continuous production of panels across many sectors of the world, it has become increasingly important for manufacturers to find ways to channel old or damaged solar products to industry specialists who are equipped to recycle large quantities.