If Solar Panels Are So Clean, Why Do They Produce So Much Toxic Waste

5-23-2018, Forbes, Michael Shellenberger

Key Takeaways:

  • The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) in 2016 estimated there was about 250,000 metric tons of solar panel waste in the world at the end of that year.
  • IRENA projected that this amount could reach 78 million metric ton by 2050
  • The problem of solar panel disposal “will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment” because it “is a huge amount of waste and they are not easy to recycle
  • Researchers with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) undertook a study for U.S. solar-owning utilities to plan for end-of-life and concluded that solar panel “disposal in “regular landfills is not recommended in case modules break and toxic materials leach into the soil” and so “disposal is potentially a major issue”
  • “Contrary to previous assumptions, pollutants such as lead or carcinogenic cadmium can be almost completely washed out of the fragments of solar modules over a period of several months, for example by rainwater”.
  • Recycling costs more than the economic value of the materials recovered, which is why most solar panels end up in landfills
  • Dangers and hazards of toxins in photovoltaic modules appear particularly large in countries where there are no orderly waste management systems