Solar panels are very reliable and long-lasting investments that save consumers money and require little to no maintenance for 25-35 years. However, given the scale of deployment over the last 15-20 years, there is and will continue to be a growing demand for effective processes for removal, dismantling and recycling or reuse of solar panels at the end of their useful life.

Solar panels are removed from operation either from degradation after decades of use, system upgrades, damage from extreme weather, remodeling, or damage during transit. To date, broken or unused solar panels were being stockpiled by solar contractors, dumped in hazardous waste landfills, or worse, illegally dumped.

Up until 2021, solar panels were classified as Hazardous Waste by the State Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). In January of 2021, solar panels were reclassified as Universal Waste, making it easier and less expensive for waste management companies to haul and process solar panels for recycling.

On June 27, 2018, the City was awarded $50,000 in funding from the Household Hazardous Waste Grant Program of the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle). The City worked with the California Product Stewardship Council and other partners to survey stakeholders, conduct outreach, and coordinate panel pickups from homeowners and solar installers.  The CA Conservation Corps picked up and hauled panels and a Universal Waste management company called CalMicro, recycled the panels.

Overall, 281 working and non-working panels were collected from 8 locations for an estimated total recycling weight of 7,920 lbs.  The cost for hauling and recycling solar panels was about $0.62 per pound or $17 per panel.  An additional 78 working panels were diverted for reuse.

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Author: Drew L. Johnstone, City of Santa Monica
Image: City of Santa Monica