We Recycle Solar is repurposing, reusing and recycling the growing supply of panels that have passed their expected lifespan of 30 years. Through multiple processes, the company refurbishes salvageable solar photovoltaic panels and breaks down worn-out panels into aluminum, granular glass and other materials that can be reused. Waste is a growing problem around the world as solar power becomes more affordable and the need to reduce fossil fuel usage is more acute on a warming planet.
But solar recycling in 2022 isn’t cost effective, and not all materials used in solar panels can be extracted — problems the industry and researchers at Arizona State University are working on. In a joint report, the International Renewable Energy Agency and the International Energy Agency Photovoltaic Power Systems Programme predicted the United States will create up to 10 million tons of solar-panel waste by 2050. That’s the weight of more than 45,000 jumbo jets.
In addition, some of that waste — lead in particular — is toxic and can cause serious health problems. Lead and other materials, including copper and silver, remain difficult to remove from recycled composite materials. Of the 50 states, the U.S. Energy Information Administration ranks Arizona fourth in net generation from solar but second in solar energy potential.