Solar FAQ: Can Solar Panels Be Recycled? ♻

With a massive increase in the number of UK properties benefiting from solar panels, it’s obvious that this country is well on its way to becoming more sustainable. But what’s the point in opting for green energy choices if we’re only going to get rid of the materials in landfills?

This leads us to ask the question ‘can solar panels be recycled?’

If we’re ever going to live in a world that’s environmentally friendly, the ability to recycle solar panels is a must.

So, let’s find out more.

Solar Panel Recycling

It’s great news! Solar panels are suitable for recycling so, after you’ve had the use out of your panels, you can rest assured that you aren’t going to undo all that hard work of trying to be more environmentally friendly.

Solar panels are typically made from three main materials which include glass, silicon and aluminium. All of these materials have the potential to be recycled so there’s not much of the panel that’s left over.

How Solar Panels Are Recycled

The start of the solar panel recycling process involves removing the glass and aluminium portions of the product. Both of these materials are highly recyclable with glass being reused up to 95% while 100% of the aluminium can be recycled.

The next stage is to break down the silicon and recyclers will heat it up to a whopping 500 degrees. This is so that any plastics can be broken down, leaving you with around 85% of the original silicon which is often formed into new solar panels.

It’s also worth noting that there are thin film solar panels that undergo a more vigorous recycling process owing to how they’re made. In this case, the panels are smashed up using special machinery before the materials are separated and recycled.

With this type of solar panel, around 90% of the glass can be saved and reused which is slightly less than silicon panels. Moreover, byproducts of this type of recycling include things like cadmium which can pose a threat to the environment.

This is certainly something to consider when choosing which type of solar panels to install. While the recycling process will be decades away, it’ll eventually come around and we want to have as little impact on the planet as possible.

How Long Do Solar Panels Last?

Modern solar panels are surprisingly robust and a standard panel can be expected to perform well until it is around 25 years old. Most solar panels come with a warranty of up to  20 years which is a clear demonstration of their longevity.

However, it’s not uncommon for solar panels to continue performing effectively for between 30 and 40 years. This is why solar power should be considered a wise investment because of the incredibly long lifespan. Just think about the savings you’ll make on your energy bill during this time!

Where Can I Recycle My Solar Panels?

While solar panels are very easy to recycle, it may surprise you to learn that there is actually only one solar panel recycling centre in the UK. It’s called Recycle Solar and is located in Scunthorpe.

But don’t worry if you live at the opposite end of the country because you’ll still be able to recycle your solar panels at no cost to yourself in terms of time or money.

That’s because there is a law in place that requires all solar panel installation companies to collect old panels and take them to the recycling centre. The onus will never fall on you.

If you’ve found yourself with some old panels that need to be recycled, all you need to do is contact your installer. For people who have moved into a new home and aren’t sure who installed the panels or for anyone who has used a company that is no longer in operation, all is not lost.

You can still have your panels collected and recycled by one of the many collection companies. PV Cycle is one of the most popular choices and you can arrange a visit to one of their collection points using their website. They have several collection points throughout the UK but it is worth noting that, when disposing of less than 20 panels, there may be a cost involved.

What Happens If We Don’t Recycle Solar Panels?

Across Europe, it is estimated that around 4 million tons of PV has been installed already. This is great news in terms of having a sustainable energy source but not so positive when we think about what will happen to those panels once their life comes to an end.

If recycling doesn’t take place then we risk up to 60 millions tons of PV waste by the year 2050. On the flip side, if all of the currently installed panels were recycled, we have the potential to create 2 billion new solar panels by the same year, purely from the recycled materials.

Why Is It Important To Recycle Solar Panels?

As someone who has previously decided to have solar panels installed, I’m sure you are an eco-conscious individual. This is, after energy bill savings, one of the main reasons that people choose to have solar panels and means that these eco-conscious people aren’t about to throw their used solar panels into landfill.

This is one of the key reasons that solar panel recycling is so important. It is estimated that, in the 2030s, there will be a huge demand for solar panel recycling as some of the first installations will be nearing the end of their life. Imagine all of that waste ending up in a landfill!

Not only will the materials take an incredibly long time to degrade (up to 500 years for aluminium) but it may also leak toxic chemicals into the ground which has a wider impact on the soil, wildlife and general environment.

Recycling solar panels is also essential in the production of new solar panels. This removes the need to take more raw materials from the earth

Also, let’s not forget that solar panel recycling collection points and the recycling centre need to be operated and that opens up a world of opportunities in terms of creating jobs. The unemployment rate in the UK was projected to be 4.2% in 2023 which was a significant increase from the previous year. With more jobs, people experience a better quality of life.

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