Ask G

Ask G: Should I avoid solar panels because they can't be recycled?

Tanya Ha tackles your eco-questions & finds out if solar panels can be recycled.

I have 10 solar panels on my roof already (and I am loving it!) but I have a friend who is against solar PV panels because they can’t be recycled. Is this true?
- Nathan Giles, via email.

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Hmm... and coal-fired power stations can be recycled?! I think not!

With solar panels, we’re talking about a product with a lifespan of 25-plus years that’s only had widespread up-take in Australia over the last five or so years.

Melbourne sustainability expert Stuart McQuire has Australia’s second domestic rooftop PV installation, installed in 1996. The panels, not to mention the original inverter, are still going strong after 15½ years. Solar panels are not yet entering the waste stream in Australia, so it’s unreasonable to expect anyone to have invested in recycling infrastructure only to have it sitting idle.

Let’s turn our attention to Europe where countries like Germany have a longer history of widespread up-take of solar PV. Lo and behold, PV Cycle (www.pvcycle.org) is well underway in Europe as a voluntary take-back and recycling program, pioneering work in this area, with panel producers footing the bill. Tradable commodities, such as glass, silicon and aluminium, are recovered. Very little is discarded.

So PV recycling is technically feasible and I imagine Australia will pilot similar programs when there are significant volumes of the waste and it’s financially viable. I think your friend gave up too easily (but maybe they were looking for any excuse)!