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Can solar panels be recycled?

Solar panels have long lifespans - we’re seeing them produce good amounts of power for periods of over 25 years! But although 25+ years gives you plenty of time to enjoy your solar panel system, the fact that your panels are not everlasting is something to be mindful of. If you want your solar panels to be as green an investment as possible, you’ll be interested in whether solar panels are recyclable. Are solar panels good for the environment? Let’s break down solar panel recycling below.

How are solar panels recycled?

In the UK, photovoltaic solar modules are included in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive. The directive also includes appliances such as refrigerators and televisions. Equipment included in the WEEE directive has to be disposed of in a certain way - you won’t be able to bin your panels with your general waste.

What components of solar panels can be recycled?

Practically all components of a solar panel can be recycled! This includes materials such as:

Glass:

The glass used in solar panels is ground down and processed into foam glass. This is then used in the construction industry, for example.

Aluminium:

The frame and corner pieces which hold the frame together are made from aluminium. A hundred percent of the metal can be recovered, and given new life in the metal industry.

Silicon:

The silicon used in the cells of the panels can be melted down and re-used. Bear in mind though that this is not always deemed efficient, as silicon is one of the most common elements on earth. Whether the silicon from solar cells will be recovered is for each jurisdiction to decide.

Copper:

Copper is used both for the ribbons and conductors of the solar panel set up. In both cases, it’s possible to separate the copper from other materials, such as silver and plastic, and for a high share of the metals to be recovered.

Plastic:

Unfortunately, not all plastic used in the production of solar panels can be recycled. Some of the plastic used cannot be remelted, some of it is layered in such a way that it’s difficult to separate from itself or other components. It’s not impossible to separate the plastic components of solar panels, but may not be economically feasible. As with silicon, whether to separate the plastic is for each jurisdiction to decide.

Although there is not one definite way in which the components of a solar panel can be recycled, the fact that we’re able to recycle most of them helps conserve raw materials and protect the environment. In fact, the process of recycling solar panel components into high quality secondary raw material emits less CO2 than having to extract primary raw materials again. So when your solar panels come to the end of their life cycle, not only will they be properly disposed of, but they’ll protect natural habitats of the future by living on in new forms. This makes solar panels an even greener investment!

If you’re interested to learn more about solar panels, have a look at the rest of our Green Guides, or why not check out our Guru FAQs. This is our Green Homes Gurus’ very own knowledge base, which we’ve exposed externally so that you’re more fit to make an informed decision about whether solar panels are right for you!

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