International Solar Day Open Thread: Should Solar Panel Recycling be Mandatory?

By the end of this year, solar PV production capacity will be at 50 GW (50,000 MW), up from 100 MW in 2000. That’s reason to celebrate on this International Solar Day.

But it’s also important to remember the implications of that growth. Solar PV manufacturing uses all kinds of toxic chemicals and materials that should be recycled. Many solar companies have take-back programs that minimize waste. But independent groups have called for mandatory recycling of panels.

Greentech Media had a piece on the issue this week:

Does the solar industry really need a mandate for recycling panels?

The answer is yes, according to Sheila Davis, Executive Director at SVTC, who spoke at Morrison Foster (also known as MoFo) in Palo Alto, California this morning.

Davis said, “We believe in mandatory recycling in electronics.” She said that if everyone has to recycle, it creates a level playing field, adding, “If people are committed to recycling, then people will design for recycling.”

She also spoke of the need to harmonize the recycling laws in 50 states with 50 different laws, reminiscent of the solar permitting issue.

Dustin Mulvaney, the technical advisor for SVTC and a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of California, Berkeley, spoke about the necessity of preventing an e-waste crisis from solar panels, citing the risks of releasing tellurium and indium into the environment, as well as the elements’ rarity. He listed the PV materials that can be recycled as glass, silicon wafers, silver, indium, tin, moly, nickel, zinc, copper, aluminum, zinc, plastics, CdTe filter cake, and CIGS filter cake.

Generally, the industry is supportive of recycling programs. But not everyone is in favor of mandatory programs that may add costs into manufacturing just as companies are hitting their stride.

So what do you think? Given what we know about e-waste, what are the best steps the industry can take to ensure environmental standards are met while keeping costs down?

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