Are solar panels recyclable and which companies do it? We reveal all…

Time to get rid of your solar panels? Keep being eco-friendly by recycling them using this guide
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  • You’ve gone green and invested in solar but now it’s time to get rid of them or upgrade. Or perhaps you’ve moved into a home and don’t want the panels there. Whatever the reason for getting rid of your solar panels, you were quite right to ask, are solar panels recyclable?

    In fact, this is important on a global scale as the popularity of solar panels is growing rapidly. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) says it will grow to a whopping 4,500GW by 2050. That’ll be 16% of global electricity which is fuelled by the sun.

    With a lifespan of about 30-40 years that also means there are going to be a lot of defunct solar panels in the future. As such, lots of companies are working on making sure we can recycle them. Thankfully this is also something you can do and using this guide you can find the best way to recycle your solar panels right now.

    A man carrying a solar panel on a green construction site, working on a green building project.

    Image credit: Getty Images/Mint Images – Tim Pannell

    Are solar panels recyclable?

    Solar panels are indeed recyclable. If they weren’t then all the good they do by helping us go green to use the sun for electricity would be severely offset by the waste they produce. Thankfully solar panels are made from largely common materials including aluminium, glass and silicone. All of these are easy to break down, meaning you could even do the process yourself if you have access to recycling for metal, glass and silicone. But that’s not needed as there are lots of options to take care of it for you.

    Your panel will likely be suffering from one of four major solar panel problems that causes them to come to the end of their life. The most common are optical failure, power loss or J-box and cable failure, at 20% each, with glass breakage in at number four with 10% of cases. The reason they live for so long is that there are no moving parts and they’re easy to fix. So be sure you look into repair before smashing them up as you may find they have life in them yet.

    While most solar panels use silicon, at 92%, some use thin-film at 7% of the market. Depending on which type you have, the recycling process varies.

    How silicon based solar panels are recycled

    These panels are first separated so that the glass and aluminium can be recycled, with 95% of the glass reused and 100% of the aluminium. Then thermal processing is used to get up to 500 degrees Celsius so the plastic components are melted leaving the cell modules of which an impressive 80% are reused. Finally there are the silicon wafers left where 85% can be reused for new solar panels.

    How thin-film solar panels are recycled

    This is a violent process involving a shredder and hammer mill where everything is reduced down to 5mm pieces, a mix of solid and liquid, where a big rotating screw is used to separate them. Around 95% of the semiconductor material and 90% of the glass is reused. But these panels use cadmium which can be a threat to the environment, hence most solar panels now being silicon based.

    House with solar panels on the roof

    Schmidt-z/Getty Images

    How do I go about recycling my solar panels?

    ‘One thing you certainly shouldn’t do is just send them off to landfill,’ that’s according to Charlie Clissitt of The Eco Experts. ‘You barely have to do anything to get your solar panels recycled.’

    All solar panel manufacturers and importers in the UK must adhere to the Producer Compliance Scheme, meaning their panels should be collected and recycled. Under EU regulations your solar panel installer is legally required to take your used solar panels from you. Or at the very least, fund a Distributor Take-Back Scheme.

    All that means your first step into getting your solar panels recycled should be to call your solar panel installer. They will be able to get up onto the roof, remove everything in place and take it to a Dedicated Collection Facility.

    Which companies recycle solar panels?

    There are a whole host of Dedicated Collection Facilities and you can find your local one using this list. These centres are dotted about the country so it should be relatively easy to find one close to you. This might be necessary if your supplier has gone out of business and can’t help, or if you’ve moved into a property with solar panels already there. Here are all the options currently in the UK.

    Ample Energy Services
    Unit 36 Acorn Industrial Park , DA1 4AL Dartford , United Kingdom

    Statkraft
    Unit 8 Lion Park Avenue , KT91ST Surrey , United Kingdom

    Waxman Energy
    Grove Mills , HX59DZ Elland, Nr Halifax, United Kingdom

    Wind & Sun
    Lion Yard, Upper Hill -, HR6 0JZ, Leominster, United Kingdom

    GB-Sol
    Renewable Energy Works, Building B2, Taffs Fall Road, Treforest Industrial Estate , CF37 5TF Pontypridd, United Kingdom

    Metcollect
    Comber Road 280, BT27 6TA Lisburn, United Kingdom

    NuVision Energy
    Unit 19P , Flightways Business Park , EX14 4RD Dunkeswell, United Kingdom

    How much does it cost to recycle my solar panels?

    You should know that recycling solar panels costs you nothing. Since all the rules are in place to make sure recycling of solar panels is easy and not your responsibility as an owner, there should never be a charge. So if someone taking them away does try to charge you, then you should find someone else instead. That said, some situations where removal is an issue may incur a charge.

    It’s worth noting that recycling helps in the long run since many solar panels are made using rare materials like gallium and indium, which are steadily depleting. So rescuing these, rather than sending them to landfill is important.

    You’re also helping to fund future solar panels. The estimated total value of solar panels in 2030 is set to hit £330 million. That could fund around 60 million new solar panels for future green energy harvesting needs.

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