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Can my solar panels be recycled?

Can my solar panels be recycled?

The short answer is yes!

Solar panel recycling plants are cropping up across Australia that promise to recycle 100% of your old panels.

This is a good thing because more and more panels are reaching end-of-life.  It is estimated that over 100,000 tonnes of solar panels will enter Australia’s waste stream by 2035 unless action is taken to recycle them.

Keeping solar panels out of landfill is critical.  Unless decommissioned panels are disposed of correctly, materials contained within the panels can leach into soil and groundwater causing environmental damage.

The solar industry has woken up to this fact and the opportunity it presents.  The Federal Government is also acting, although more slowly. There is no national framework yet for the proper recycling of solar panels.  Work has commenced on this task, but this hasn’t crystalized into policy or industry guidance.

So, what’s the solar industry doing?  And how can your old solar panels be recycled now?

On this blog:

  • Solar panel recycling: how it works
  • Cost of solar panel recycling
  • Solar panel recycling companies in Australia
  • How to get your solar panels recycled

Solar panel recycling: how it works

Materials that can be recovered in the solar panels recycling process include:

  • Aluminium
  • Glass
  • Silver
  • Silicon
  • Copper
  • Plastics

Whilst every solar panel recycling plant handles the process differently, the three main steps are:

  1. Shred the panels into millions of small pieces.
  2. Put the shredded pieces through a sorting process. This separates out the different materials including glass, copper wiring, steel, aluminum, cables, circuit boards etc.
  3. Sorted materials are returned to industry for manufacturing new items.

Cost of solar panel recycling

Stripping and sorting solar panels is an expensive process requiring specialized machinery. As the Australian solar panel recycling industry is still in its infancy, volumes are not large enough for the returns to cover costs.

This is the reason why most Australian solar panel recyclers charge a small fee per panel to get it recycled.

Clive Fleming, who runs Reclaim PV, a solar panel recycling plant in Adelaide, said: “We do need to charge at the moment for the recycling because the amount of solar panels coming in isn’t huge.

“Until that tipping point comes where we can sell our materials in a larger volume, it means that we still have to charge for the process and our labour.”

Currently it is up to households to pay for their panels to be recycled.  Costs vary between recycling plants and may even be covered by your solar installer as part of the job.  But as a guide, the cost to recycle one solar panel is around $10 plus freight to the nearest depot.

In Europe, it’s handled differently. There, responsibility for recycling solar panels is placed on the manufacturers.  What happens is manufacturers add a bit onto the cost of the panels to cover end-of-life recycling.

With the European approach, recycling of end-of-life panels is standard practice and avoids the issue of solar panels as e-waste.

Solar panel recycling companies in Australia

Rules relating to solar panel disposal vary across Australia, with different states taking different approaches.  In Victoria, old solar panels are considered e-waste and are banned from landfill.

Fortunately, there are several solar panel recycling companies in Australia, with more coming on-stream all the time.

Examples include:

Lotus Energy – a Melbourne-based co-operative that claims to recycle 100 per cent of old solar panels, as well as inverters, cables optimisers and mounting structures, without using chemicals.

Elecsome – Australia’s first end-of-life solar panel upcycling plant in regional Victoria.

Reclaim PV – provides households, installers and manufacturers throughout Australia with guaranteed 100 per cent recycling of end-of-life solar panels.

How to get your solar panels recycled

There are several ways to get your old solar panels recycled:

  1. Ask us to arrange it: We take solar panel recycling seriously.  The last thing we want as a business is to add e-waste to landfill.  We can take your old panels away and either ship them to developing countries where solar is much needed, or arrange for them to go to a local Australian solar panel recycling plant.
  2. Contact your local council: They will be able to tell you what solar panel recycling options are available in your area.
  3. Go direct to a solar panel recycler: Get in touch with one of the solar panel recycling plants listed above and request a quote. Some, including Reclaim PV, have networks of depots across Australia covering major cities and regional areas where you can have your panels dropped off.

Get in touch for a quote

If you’re upgrading your solar panels system with SolarRun, we’ll organize the recycling of your old panels are a matter of course.  However, if you just want a costing on getting end-of-life solar panels recycled we can also help.  Get in touch for a quote!

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