Solar Panel Disposal in Australia
In Australia, at least 3 million homes have PV solar power on their rooftops. This equates to around 30% of all homes, giving Australia the largest percentage of solar uptake in the world. In fact, at the current rate of installation, Australia is well on track for 50% renewable energy by 2025.
Unfortunately, with the exponential growth in the technology, solar panels are set to be Australia’s largest electronic waste growth stream. Macquarie University estimates that by 2047 Australia's total amount of old solar panel waste will grow to one million tonnes.
How Long Do Solar Panels Last?
Solar panels have a typical life span of 25-30 years. However many are being retired sooner, due to poor quality components, or households upgrading to larger systems or newer technologies.
Given that many people install solar power in an effort to live a more sustainable lifestyle, it’s important to know what happens to your waste panels when they have reached their end of life or if you are replacing them for another reason.
It’s important to avoid sending PV panels straight to landfill, as they are filled with small amounts of hazardous substances. Silver, tin and lead are some of these components that are found in mono and polycrystalline silicon panels. When broken up in landfill, these components are likely to leach and cause adverse impacts on the environment and human health.
How Do I Get Rid of Old Solar Panels?
There are a few ways you can get rid of solar panels, depending on the age and condition of the panels. The main options being to:
- Sell your old solar panels.
- Give the panels away.
- Recycle your panels.
- Send them the the local landfill site
Are Your Solar Panels Still Working?
If yes, you can sell them or give them away to someone else. Panels that are more than five years old, are unlikely to be compliant with current standards, so they can’t be installed on grid connected buildings.
However, if you’re upgrading to a newer system and your panels are still working, there are second-hand markets where you can sell them, through online marketplaces such as Gumtree or eBay.
People buy them to put on holiday systems and small off grid systems, use for educational purposes or when out camping in the great Aussie wilderness.
Your solar installer may also find them useful for warranty stock, where they need to replace panels.
Are Your Solar Panels Damaged?
Damaged panels can be repaired and sold on the second hand market or to developing nations at lower cost. But, realistically the main option for damaged solar panels is recycling or disposal.
Solar Panel Recycling
Can You Recycle Solar Panels?
Yes, solar panels contain up to 85-95% recyclable materials. Materials such as glass, copper, lead, silver and aluminium can be extracted from the solar panels and used in the manufacturing of new electronics or solar panels.
The aluminium frames from panels are 100% recyclable, the glass is 95% reusable and 85% of the silicon foil is recoverable. However, sorting the panels and separating the different types of waste is time-consuming and expensive.
Unfortunately, there are currently limited recycling options in Australia. However, there are a few dedicated solar PV recyclers operating around Australia listed below:
Solar Recycling Companies
Reclaim PV Recycling
Reclaim PV are based in Adelaide and have been working directly with manufacturers to collect and recycle existing panels since 2014. For a set fee, Reclaim arranges the pickup, either from the manufacturers or the installers who decommission the panels, and recycles them.
The good news is that Reclaim PV are set to expand their recovery service, to allow it to be accessed by installers and consumers directly through drop off centres. Stay tuned at reclaimpv.com
PV Industries have recycling collection services across New South Wales as well as public PV drop off points in Sydney and Melbourne. They have developed a unique process where the panels are separated in pieces rather than being crushed or shredded. You can contact them here.
SolarCycle offer solar panel recycling services to home owners and installers. They started in 2019 aiming to provide solutions for Australia' solar panel waste problem. They have collection services for homeowners and solar installers in Sydney and can be contacted here.
Ecoactiv have e-waste, battery and solar panel recycling programmes in Metro and Regional area across Australia. They have an online platform allowing customers to book recycling or disposal for solar panels, batteries and other e-waste. They have a mix of drop-off and pick-up schemes available and can be contacted here.
Ecocycle have sites across Australia and specialise in e-waste and battery recycling. They are the only company to be fully licensed to recover mercury from waste by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Are There Laws About Recycling Solar Panels?
As part of the Product Stewardship Act 2011, photovoltaic cells were added in 2016-17 as a list of classes of products, which the Minister will consider whether some form of accreditation or regulation under the Act might be appropriate. Products on these lists are the highest priorities for consideration of product stewardship.
According to the Australian Government, work on a scheme for photovoltaic systems is currently being led by the Victoria Government, with the support of the Australian and other state and territory governments, industry and other stakeholders.
In September 2018, Sustainability Victoria announced a new research project, to understand end-of-life management approaches for Photovoltaic (PV) systems, with the objective of assessing options to progress a national product stewardship program. Sustainability consultants, Equilibrium and Ernst & Young, were appointed to support this analysis, it was completed at the end of 2018.
In July 2019, the Victorian Government banned the disposal of all e-waste from landfill sites. To help protect the environment Victoria now has a network of drop-off points for e-waste recycling. E-waste is defined, simply, as anything that has a battery, power cord or plug so that included solar panels, solar batteries and inverters.
Can You Dispose of Solar Panels in a Skip Bin?
The option to dispose of your solar panels using skip bins depends on your state regulations and whether you want to have them recycled or not.
As we mention above, e-waste including solar panels is banned from landfill in Victoria so that would rule out disposing them in a skip bin in Victoria.
In other states, depending on the skip hire supplier, you could get rid of you old solar panels in a skip bin but they would most likely end up in a landfill site.
Normally, it is not economical for a skip company to recycle solar panels so if recycling is important to you then a skip bin is probably not the best solution.
We are hopeful that some form of national regulation around recycling solar power systems will come into place soon. In the meantime, if you do need skip bin hire to dispose of solar panels, please email us first so we can assess the regulations in your state and see if we have solar panel recycling facilities near you.