Solar waste investigated
Experts are investigating better ways to dispose of solar panels.
There are no laws on solar industry waste, which experts predict could weigh a total of 1,500 kilotons by 2050.
Currently, at most waste sites, only the panels’ aluminium frames can be recycled, leaving large sheets of glass and back sheets embedded with cells going to landfill. The only facility in Australia that recycles solar panels is Reclaim PV in Adelaide.
No official data on solar waste is being collected, so Professor Rodney Stewart from Griffith University has been trying for himself.
“It's not a big waste stream at the moment. It's a relatively small waste stream because most of the solar panels installed have only been installed in the past decade,” he told the ABC.
“These panels last 15, 20, 25 years. So the problem is coming.
“We have estimates that by 2050 we'll have 1,500 kilotons of solar PV waste being disposed of.”
He said one problem is that some elements of solar panel modules can be toxic.
“Some of those, if they're in landfill, could leach into groundwater and get into water systems,” he said.
“And these are sometimes rare earth materials or types of materials we want to re-use because the extraction of those minerals in mining is energy-intensive.”
The Federal Government is looking at new rules, including adding solar panels to the Product Stewardship Act, which mandates how electronic waste is dealt with.
Professor Stewart said it may be hard to enforce any hard laws.
“We need the industry to actually create some authorities to self-regulate and push their members to improve their rates of refurbishment or enabling recycling of components,” he said.
“And then those free-riders that aren't doing that, that want to just import cheap products that can't be re-furbished or recycled, then they can't play in the space in Australia.”