How to Properly Get Rid of Solar Panels and Equipment?

With the increased adoption of solar panels all around the world as the world shifts towards more renewable and sustainable sources of energy, also comes the demand for more reliable and cost-effective methods for getting rid of or recycling solar equipment.

No matter how well-designed and high-quality a solar panel is, sooner or later it will reach the end of its life cycle and must be retired. In such cases, recycling solar panels allows us to reduce the amount of potentially hazardous materials that end up incinerated, are buried in bodies of water or landfills, and also reuse valuable components for making new panels.

However, unfortunately, there are still fairly limited recycling facilities capable of safely and properly recycling solar panel equipment. Not only will this result in higher costs, but improper disposal of solar panel materials can have significant negative environmental and health impacts. 

In this article, we will explore all you need to know about the proper way of getting rid of solar panels, and by the end of this guide you’d have learned about:

  • Importance and benefits of properly getting rid of solar panels
  • Best practices for solar panel recycling to ensure sustainability and maximize value
  • Parts of solar panels that can be recycled
  • Steps involved in recycling solar panels
  • Finding the right recycling service
  • How to properly dispose of solar panels according to local laws and regulations

And more.

Without further ado, let us begin this article right away. 

How do solar panels work?

Solar panels and related equipment work by collecting direct sunlight and then converting the collected heat and energy into usable electricity.

Different types of solar panels may use different methods to convert solar energy into electricity, and different manufacturers may use different components in constructing their solar panels. However, most solar panels are made up of these main components: 

  • Photovoltaic cells: the most important part of any solar panels, photovoltaic cells—or solar cells—are made of semi-conductive materials that can absorb sunlight and convert the collected heat energy into DC electrical energy.
  • Inverter: the inverter is responsible for converting the DC electricity generated by the photovoltaic cells into AC electricity that is commonly used in households and commercial buildings.
  • Battery: not all solar panel systems have batteries, but they can be added to store excess electrical energy produced by the solar panels. The energy stored in the battery can then be used when the sun isn’t shining (during the night, in cloudy weather, etc.)
  • Wiring: pretty self-explanatory, wiring and cables are used to connect the solar panels to the inverter, batteries, and other components of the solar panel system.
  • Mounting hardware:  used to secure the solar panels to the ground, roof, or other places they are installed so they stay in place. 

With these components, here are the basic steps of how solar panels work:

  1. Direct sunlight hits the photovoltaic cells (or solar cells) of the solar panels.
  2. The photovoltaic cells collect heat energy from the sun and convert heat into DC (direct current) electricity.
  3. The inverter then converts DC electricity into AC (alternating current) electricity. As we know, most of our day-to-day appliances need AC and not DC currents.
  4. The AC current is then sent to an electrical panel and is then distributed throughout the building to power your devices and appliances.

The importance of properly getting rid of solar panels

Proper way of getting rid of solar panels while adhering to the applicable environmental sustainability regulations would benefit solar panel owners in three different aspects: environmental, economic, and waste management. 

  • Environmental impact of recycling

Getting rid of solar panels in landfills or bodies of water can release hazardous materials such as cadmium or lead—common materials in solar panels—into the environment, which can harm the environment, wildlife, and even humans in the area.

By recycling these materials instead, we can safely process them and keep these hazardous wastes out of landfills or water; reducing the negative impact on the environment.

Recycling can also allow the manufacturing process of new solar panels to reuse some if not all of these materials, which will help conserve natural resources—metals, minerals, etc. — to further contribute a positive impact on the environment.

  • Economic benefits of solar panel recycling

Recycling solar panels and related equipment can also have economic benefits, mainly because it allows us to recover and repurpose valuable materials (glass, silicon cells, etc.) from the solar panel, reducing the need to mine for these valuable materials.

In the long run, this can allow solar panel manufacturers to save costs on acquiring these materials, grow to be more profitable, and create more job opportunities in the solar panel recycling field. 

When recycling facilities can grow to be more effective and efficient in recovering and reusing these valuable materials, they may also offer incentives (i.e., rebates) to solar panel owners. 

  • Benefits of waste management

Proper way of getting rid of solar panels by recycling them also offers a number of waste management benefits.

As we know, solar panels contain a variety of potentially hazardous materials that should not be disposed of carelessly (i.e. in landfills). Proper recycling of solar panels will allow us to safely extract and process these hazardous materials, reducing the negative impacts on the environment.

By reducing the amount of waste being sent to bodies of water or landfills, we can help to reduce the need for new landfills and extend the life of existing landfills.

What parts of solar panels can be recycled and reused?

As discussed above, solar panels are typically made up of various components in a complex configuration. So, which of these components can be recycled? And which should be disposed of safely?

Below are the solar panel components that can be salvaged for their valuable materials:

  • Photovoltaic cells

Photovoltaic cells in solar panels are typically made of different layers of materials such as silicon, aluminum, and glass. These layers can be separated (i.e., via heating) and then reused after the recycling process. Silicon cells can be reused in the manufacturing of new solar panels to help offset costs, while aluminum and glass can also be reused in manufacturing new products (besides new solar panels.)

  • Batteries

Many solar panel systems have batteries to store excess electrical energy so the user can use this excess energy when little to no sunlight is available. These batteries may contain materials such as lithium, nickel, or lead, as well as other materials that can be recycled to make new batteries or other products. 

  • Inverters

In solar panels, inverters are used to convert DC electricity into AC electricity, and are typically made up of valuable metals such as steel, aluminum, and copper. These metals can be collected to be reused in the manufacturing of new solar panels, as well as other electronic products. 

  • Cables

Wires and cables in the solar panel system often contain valuable materials, especially aluminum, and copper. These metals can be salvaged to be reused in the manufacturing of new cables and electronic materials. 

  • Other parts

Charge controllers, monitoring equipment, and mounting hardware of solar panels, as well as other accessories, also often contain valuable metals and salvageable materials. For example, many of them are made up of steel and aluminum, which can be reused for various purposes.

As we can see, recycling solar panels and related equipment won’t only help in waste management and preventing negative environmental impacts, but can also promote a sustainable circular economy. By salvaging valuable materials and reducing the need of raw materials, recycling solar panels would also provide long-term economic benefits for both the solar panel manufacturers and their users. 

Challenges in solar panel recycling

Despite the various benefits of recycling solar panels, unfortunately, at the moment, there are several key challenges that are hard to ignore, including:

  • Cost

Let’s address the elephant in the room first: unfortunately, at the moment the process of getting rid and recycling of solar panels is relatively expensive. The cost of recycling can be higher than the value of the salvaged materials, often resulting in the recycling process more costly than manufacturing solar panels from scratch. This can lead to higher fees for users who want to recycle their retired solar panel systems and may make it difficult for recycling facilities/companies to turn a profit. 

  • Lack of infrastructure

At the moment, lack of infrastructure is one of the biggest challenges in solar panel recycling. There are simply not enough recycling facilities to handle the rapidly increasing volume of discarded solar panels. This often leads to a delay in the recycling process and a backlog of retired and unprocessed panels, which will only continue to be a problem in coming years, if this infrastructure issue is not tackled. 

  • Complex solar panel composition

Solar panels are often made up of a complex mixture of materials: silicon, plastic, glass, and metal materials (aluminum, steel, copper.) Thus, the recycling process would require different processes for separating and purifying these materials, making it more time-consuming, challenging, and costly. 

Not to mention, many of these materials are potentially hazardous, which would demand specialized expertise and equipment/infrastructure to ensure proper safety.

  • Lack of standardization and regulation

At the moment, there are no clear federal regulations in the US (and many countries all around the world) regulating the recycling of solar panels. Without clear and consistent regulations, it can make it difficult for users to know how to properly recycle and/or dispose of their used solar panels, and for recycling facilities to know what standards they need to meet in their recycling process. 

Yet, despite all these challenges in the solar panel recycling process, the industry is currently actively working to develop solutions in an attempt to create a more cost-effective, reliable, and sustainable process for recycling solar panels. 

Choosing the right solar panel recycling facility

To address the challenges we’ve discussed above, it’s crucial for users looking to recycle their retired solar panels and equipment to look for the right recycling facility capable of ensuring the safety and cost-efficiency of the recycling (or disposal) processes.

Here are some tips on how to find the right local recycling centers in your area:

  • It’s best to start by contacting your solar panel or solar equipment manufacturer for recommendations on where to recycle their products (or if they have their own recycling program.)
  • Leverage search engines (i.e. Google) and online directories to find recycling facilities in your area. For example, if you are a company based in San Francisco, then you can use keywords like “solar recycling facility San Francisco” or “recycling center San Francisco” to start your online research
  • Contact your city or county government. They should be happy to provide you with accurate information about local recycling facilities that accept solar panels and solar equipment

How to evaluate different recycling centers

When evaluating different facilities for recycling your solar panels, your main objectives are to make sure the materials are handled safely and responsibly while also maximizing the recouped value you’ll get from the recycling process.

Here are some key factors to look for when evaluating different recycling facilities:

  • Certifications and accreditations

Check the recycling center’s website to see whether it has the right accreditations and certifications to handle solar panel recycling. Some important certifications/accreditations to look for include:

  • R2 (Responsible Recycling): this is a prominent standard in the electronics recycling industry. Only recycling facilities capable of responsibly handling the recycling process of electronic waste are given R2 certifications. 
  • ISO 4001: ISO standards for environmental management systems, ensure that a recycling center has a systematic approach to reducing its negative environmental footprints. 
  • e-Stewards: similar to R2, the e-Stewards certification is also specifically designed for the electronics recycling field and is only given to facilities capable of responsibly handling the recycling of electronic waste.
  • UL 2809: a specific certification to the solar panel industry, setting the standards for the collection, transportation, and recycling of retired solar panels and related equipment.
  • WEEE Directive: WEEE stands for Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment, and the WEEE Directive is a regulation applicable to the EU (European Union) that sets standards for the recycling and disposal of electronic waste, including solar panels. 

This is not an exhaustive list, but a solar recycling center that possessed some if not all of these certifications and accreditations has demonstrated its commitment to sustainable recycling, and is worth considering. 

  • Environmental standards

Assess what environmental standards the recycling center follows so you can ensure your solar equipment will be processed in a safe and sustainable way. If possible, ask the recycling center about their process and safety protocols for handling hazardous materials, including whether they take extra measures to ensure these materials are disposed of safely. 

  • Transportation

The cost of transporting your old solar panels to the recycling facility can add up quickly, and not to mention, there can be various issues along the way. 

With that being said,  check whether the recycling center offers transportation services or if you need to handle the transportation yourself. If you need to transport your panels and equipment yourself, ask the recycling company for guidance on how you should pack and transport the solar panels and equipment safely. 

Also related, consider the distance of the facility to your location, since it will affect transportation costs. 

  • Cost and fees

As early as possible, inquire about the cost estimation (including possible hidden fees) that you’ll need to pay for recycling the solar panels. You’d want to deal with a transparent recycling company that will be honest about any additional charges and hidden fees for handling specific types of equipment.

Some recycling companies may also offer rebates or incentives for recycling your solar equipment, which can help you maximize the value of your old equipment. 

Solar Recycling is a recycling company based in Santa Ana, CA, specializing in buying solar panels and solar equipment, and is definitely worth considering if you are a US-based solar panel user looking to sell your used or old solar panels and equipment.

How much should solar panel recycling cost?

The actual cost of recycling retired solar panels and related equipment can vary depending on several factors, such as: 

  • The type and size of the solar panels
  • The recycling facility’s technology and method used
  • The location where the recycling is taking place

And more. 

At the moment, the average cost of recycling a solar panel is around $25 per panel, in most cases between $20 to $30 per panel. 

Recycling costs can also vary based on the recycling company you are working with. Some companies charge a flat fee per panel, while other companies may charge you based on the type of material being recycled, weight, or other pricing structures. 

As we can see, the cost is fairly high, and it is typically caused by the processes involved in recycling. Solar panels are typically made of a complex combination of materials, especially silicon, glass, plastic, and metal materials, each may require specialized recycling and purification infrastructure and equipment. 

As mentioned, solar panels also often contain hazardous materials, which will require additional safety measures, equipment, and protocols, further increasing the cost.

While the cost of recycling solar panels at the moment is still relatively high, there are ways that may help you lower or offset the cost, including:

  • Some solar panel manufacturers and/or installers may offer discounted recycling services for their own products (some may even do it for free)
  • Some states and municipalities offer subsidized and free solar panel recycling programs. Check with your local government whether there are any recycling programs that accept solar panels (and related equipment), and ask what fees may be associated with the process.
  • Check with relevant industry associations (i.e. Solar Energy Industries Association.) They may be able to provide valuable information on finding solar panel recycling options. 

Steps involved in getting rid and recycling your solar equipment

Once you’ve identified the right recycling company to work with, here we will outline the steps you can follow in recycling your solar equipment to ensure optimal recovery of valuable resources and safe handling of hazardous materials:

Step 1: Call the local municipality to ensure compliance

Before starting any of the recycling processes, it’s best to contact your local municipality first, so you can understand the relevant rules and regulations you should follow throughout the recycling process. 

Your local municipality may have specific guidelines or instructions on where to take your solar panels for recycling. Regulations may vary depending on your location, and the type of solar panels you’re going to recycle. 

Contacting your local government can help you avoid legal issues in the future and ensure you stay compliant with the regulations. 

Step 2: Securing a safe way to transport the solar panels and equipment

Once you find a recycling company to work with and ensure you can stay compliant with the local guidelines and regulations, the next step is to ensure the safe transportation of your panels and equipment. 

Some recycling centers may provide pick-up service for your equipment, but you may also need to handle delivering the panels on your own. If that’s the case, consider hiring a professional to handle the transport to ensure safety, especially if you are going to recycle larger or more complex panels/equipment.

Step 3: Make sure all documentation is properly filled

Once the equipment has been transported and processed, by now you should have the hazardous materials of your solar panels properly disposed of, and the valuable resources recovered. 

In this stage, some localities or states may require documentation of the disposal of solar panels and related equipment. Make sure all necessary documents are properly filled out and submitted to the relevant authorities to ensure compliance with the regulatory requirements. 

Wrapping Up

Getting rid of and recycling your solar panels is crucial for reducing waste, while also ensuring sustainability as you retire older solar panels.

Proper recycling and getting rid of solar panels, batteries, inverters, and other accessories can ensure maximizing the value of your solar equipment by preserving valuable resources, while at the same time contributing to environmental sustainability. 

Above, we have discussed all you need to know about how to safely get rid of and recycle your solar equipment in a cost-effective way. By following these steps, you can contribute towards a more sustainable and cleaner future with renewable energy sources.

Solar Panel Recycling: How it Works and How Much it Cost

In the past decade, solar energy has become an increasingly popular, accessible, and relatively affordable source of renewable energy. 

An increasing number of households and businesses have adopted the use of solar panels, whether for economic or sustainability reasons, to reduce their dependence on non-renewable energy. However, at the same time, this creates demands for the proper disposal of solar panels once they reach the end of their life cycle.

Unfortunately, the disposal of solar panels comes with potentially significant environmental costs, leading to growing interest in proper solar panel disposal and recycling which can mitigate the negative impact on the environment.

In this article, we will delve into all you need to know about solar panel recycling, including but not limited to: 

  • The importance of solar panel recycling and proper disposal
  • How solar panel recycling works and how much it costs
  • The challenge it poses
  • The current solutions available

And more. 

Understanding the importance of proper disposal and recycling of solar panels can help us minimize the environmental impact of renewable energy sources. Let us begin by discussing the basics: what are solar panels made of?

What are solar panels made of?

To understand how solar panel recycling works and especially its challenges and costs, we have to first understand what solar panels are made of and how they work.

Solar panels are typically made of several key components:

  • Solar cells: the most important part of solar panels, and are the ones responsible for converting sunlight into electricity. Made of silicon (a semiconductor material) that is capable of absorbing light energy and releasing electrons to create a flow of DC (Direct Current) electricity.
  • Frame: typically made of aluminum, although there are solar panels with other materials for the frame. The frame’s role is to hold the whole solar panel together.
  • Glass cover: the topmost layer of a solar panel is typically made of tempered glass to protect the other components. Glass is strong, durable, and can withstand exposure to bad weather and other elements while still providing transparency for the solar cells to receive direct sunlight.
  • Encapsulation material: a layer or material (typically polymer such as EVA/ethylene-vinyl acetate), its role is to provide some insulation and prevent moisture from entering the solar panel
  • Junction box: housing the electrical connections that allow the panel to generate electricity, serving as a conduit for electrical connections with the outside world. Also contains diodes that protect the solar panel by preventing the flow of DC electricity from reversing, which can damage the solar panel.
  • Backsheet: the bottom layer of the solar panel, provides a physical barrier to protect the solar cells and other components and prevent moisture from entering the panel. Typically made of polymer.

Potential environmental impact of solar panel production, use, and disposal

As we can see from the solar panel components we’ve discussed above, there are potentially harmful chemicals and other materials used to make solar panels. Thus, although solar panels are often considered to be an environmentally-friendly energy source, they can still produce negative impacts on the environment and the health of those around the panels during the production, use, and disposal processes.

Below are some considerations.


  • Raw materials: solar panel production requires extraction and processing of potentially impactful materials such as aluminum, copper, and silicon, among others. Processing these materials can be energy-intensive and can generate greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Manufacturing: solar panel manufacturing processes may involve the use of chemicals and potentially hazardous solvents that may negatively impact the environment and the health of humans around it.
  • Transportation:  transporting the manufactured solar panels may result in additional emissions and there may be other negative environmental impacts.


  • Land use: solar panels require land for installation, and their use may negatively impact the land depending on the location and how it is used. Installing solar panels on unused and undeveloped lands can, for example, impact the local ecosystems.
  • Water use: solar panels do not require water during their use, but the manufacturing process of some of their components (i.e. inverters) may require a significant amount of water. Thus, using solar panels in areas where water quality is poor or where water is scarce can be concerning.
  • Maintenance: while solar panels typically require little maintenance, cleaning the solar panels may require the use of potentially hazardous chemicals or solvents. They may be harmful when not used and managed properly.


Solar panels have a relatively long life expectancy and can last for several decades. Yet, eventually, they will need to be replaced. The thing is, disposing and recycling solar panels are processes that aren’t yet widely available so they can be expensive, creating a few concerns:

  • Disposal: if not recycled, retired solar panels are typically buried in landfills, in which the components can release toxic materials into the soil over time. An alternative method is to incinerate the solar panels, a similarly harmful process that can release pollutants into the air.
  • Recycling: solar panel components, as discussed, contain potentially hazardous materials such as selenium, lead, and cadmium. Recycling these materials can pose a risk to the humans involved, as well as the environment.

While we can consider the environmental impacts of solar panels to be relatively minimal compared to traditional non-renewable energy sources, there are still potentially negative impacts to be considered, especially during end-of-life management.

Proper recycling and disposal practices can help minimize these negative impacts, and may also help solar panel users maximize their ROI by ensuring the valuable materials of the solar panel are recovered for reuse.

You may also want to explore alternative options, such as selling used and old solar panels and equipment or repurposing to help reduce the overall environmental and health impacts of solar panels.

Challenges in recycling solar panels

In most cases, recycling the solar panel is the desired end-of-life management practice due to two key reasons: it is the most environmentally sustainable practice, and when done right it will also allow users to maximize the solar panel system’s ROI.

However, solar panel recycling is not yet widely available, and at the moment there have been several challenges that have hindered its adoption:

  • Composition of solar panels. Solar panels are typically made of a complex mixture of materials that can vary depending on the type and manufacturer of the panel including glass, aluminum, silicon, and other chemicals and materials. This complex mixture of materials may make solar panels difficult to recycle, and some panels also contain toxic materials such as cadmium or lead, which may make the recycling process riskier and potentially hazardous.
  • Lack of standardization. At the moment, there’s no standardization for recycling solar panels. This often makes it difficult for companies to know the right method to recycle solar panels from different manufacturers.
  • Lack of infrastructure. Recycling solar panels is still a relatively new field, and there is currently limited infrastructure available for processing them. This is why many solar panels aren’t properly recycled or not recycled at all, and instead are just being disposed of in landfills. 
  • Lack of incentives. Unfortunately, there are often limited financial incentives for recycling. Thus, many organizations and individuals may think that recycling their solar panels is too expensive and simply not worth it, especially when they are required to invest in additional equipment and infrastructure.
  • Environmental and health risks. Due to the difficulty of recycling solar panels and the fact that there are often potentially hazardous materials included in solar panel components; improper disposal of solar panels may result in serious environmental and health risks. The workers involved in recycling solar panels can be exposed to hazardous materials if they don’t follow safety protocols.
  • Capacity: Due to the relatively slow growth of the solar panel recycling field, soon the field may not have the capacity to handle the rapidly increasing volume of solar panels that will be reaching the end of their life cycle in the near future. 
  • Varying cost: At the moment, the cost of recycling solar panels may vary depending on numerous factors, including but not limited to the type of panel, location, the number of materials that need to be recycled, and more. It can be difficult to establish a predictable, consistent pricing structure when recycling solar panels.

Current methods of solar panel recycling

As the need for solar panel recycling becomes increasingly important and at the same time solar panel technology continues to advance, various methods for recycling solar panels have been developed.

All of these methods and techniques aim to recover as many valuable materials as possible while minimizing waste and risks, but each approach comes with its own limitations and unique challenges.

With that being said, three solar panel recycling methods are considered the most cost-effective at the moment: mechanical, thermal, and chemical.

  1. Mechanical recycling process

This method—as the name suggests–involves physical (mechanical) disassembly and separation of materials, mainly via shredding and crushing. This process is mainly used to recover solid materials such as copper or aluminum, that can be sold as scrap. 

Here are the general steps involved in the mechanical recycling process of solar panels:

  • Transporting: the solar panels are removed from their mounting structure and then transported to the recycling facility.
  • Sorting: the solar panels are dismantled, and then sorted by material, type, and component. For example, specific components such as aluminum frame, glass, and silicon cells are separated and sorted for further processing.
  • Pre-processing: the sorted materials are pre-processed, mainly to remove any contaminants and other impurities. For example, the aluminum frame may be shredded into smaller pieces to remove impurities and for ease of processing.
  • Processing: the pre-processed components are then sent through a series of machines that will further break the solar panels’ components down into smaller elements. For example, the silicon cells are beaten down into smaller pieces, and then sorted by type and purity.
  • Recovery: the final step in this process is to recover the various (valuable) materials. For example, glass, aluminum, and silicon cells are recovered and can be sent to manufacturers so they can reuse them to manufacture new solar panels.

The mechanical process is typically the safest to perform compared to thermal and chemical methods, and it is also effective for recovering valuable materials from solar panels.Yet, it can be expensive due to the equipment/infrastructure needed.

However, this method cannot fully separate materials that are bonded or layered together in the solar panels. Also, some materials may be contaminated during the mechanical recycling process.

  1. Thermal recycling process

Thermal recycling techniques of solar panels involve heating the solar panels to high temperatures in the presence of oxygen or other flammable gases to break down the materials into their basic elements. 

Here are the steps involved in the thermal recycling process:

    • Transporting: the retired (or damaged) solar panels are collected (i.e. from households or solar farms) and then transported to a recycling plant.
    • Pre-processing: the collected solar panels are pre-processed, mainly to physically remove any reusable materials, such as glass or aluminum frames.
  • Heating: the remaining components; mainly solar cells and plastic components, are heated in a high-temperature furnace or oven. The heat will cause different materials in the panels to separate the components into their basic elements.
  • Separation: the heated elements are separated using various methods, including hydro cyclone separation, gravitational separation, and air classification, among others. These methods will separate the heated elements such as silicon, aluminum, plastic materials, and glass from one another so they can be collected and purified.
  • Purification: after the elements are separated, they are purified to remove any impurities. There are various purification methods available, for example, pyrometallurgy uses high temperatures to melt the elements and separate them based on their melting points. The goal of this stage is to remove any impurities left after the heating and separation process.
  • Reuse/disposal: after the purification process, the leftover elements can either be reused or disposed of accordingly. Typically the silicon, aluminum, and glass elements are reused in the manufacturing process of new solar panels. 

The main advantage of thermal recycling is its versatility and ease of implementation. It can easily handle a wide variety of solar panel types made of different materials, including those that are difficult to recycle using mechanical or chemical methods. Another advantage is that the high temperatures can help eliminate any hazardous materials that may be present in the solar panels. 

However, the thermal recycling process is typically energy-intensive and the heating process may produce hazardous emissions such as nitrogen oxides and CO2. Not to mention the heating process may destroy some valuable materials that may otherwise be recovered in other recycling methods. This is why the thermal recycling process is typically considered the least favorable method for recycling solar panels.

  1. Chemical recycling process

Also known as hydrometallurgical recycling, this method involves the use of chemical substances to help dissolve the materials that made up the solar panels, separating them into their basic elements.

Here is the typical process of a chemical recycling process:

  • Transporting: the retired solar panels are transported to a recycling facility capable of performing a chemical recycling process.
  • Pre-treatment: before the actual chemical recycling process can be performed, the solar panels must be prepared in a pre-treatment stage. Here the glass and plastic material are manually removed from the panel, and the remaining panel is crushed so it can be processed further.
  • Leaching: leaching refers to the process of dissolving the silicon cells in a specific chemical solution (typically a mixture of sulfuric acid and hydrochloric) to separate the silicon from other materials.
  • Purification: once the silicon has been separated from the rest, it must be purified, for example with methods like filtration and distillation to remove impurities so it can be sold or reused.
  • Recovery: the purified silicon and other valuable materials are separated and recovered so they can be used in the manufacturing process of new solar panels (or other products.)

The chemical recycling of solar panels can recover a high percentage of the materials (especially silicon) from other methods, but it is also more challenging and expensive to perform. Obviously, it is also riskier with the potentially hazardous chemicals used in the process, so this method typically requires specialized expertise and equipment /infrastructure.

Solar panel recycling: how much it actually cost

Solar panel recycling is often complex and costly, due to the various stages involved in the different methods used. 

However, in virtually all methods, we can break down the costs for performing solar panel recycling as follow:

Fixed costs

There are two basic fixed-cost components for recycling solar panels: the capital investment in recycling infrastructure/equipment, and the costs of obtaining necessary permits and licenses.

The capital investment in recycling equipment can vary depending on the size and complexity of the recycling process, and where the facility is located, among other factors, but it can range from several hundred thousand to several million dollars.

Due to the relatively new field and the complexity of the process, obtaining the necessary licenses and permits can also be expensive, at least several thousand dollars annually.

As we can see, the expensive fixed costs can be a major barrier to entry for starting a solar panel recycling facility.

Variable costs

The variable costs of recycling solar panels include the cost of collection, transportation, and the actual recycling processing of solar panels:

  • Collection costs: the cost of collecting the used/retired solar panels can be significant and shouldn’t be underestimated. It can range from $0.05 to $0.25 per watt, depending on the location, volume,  type of solar panels being collected, and the methods used. 
  • Transportation costs: transportation costs of the collected solar panels to the recycling facility can include gas, labor, and vehicle maintenance costs, among others. The actual cost can vary, mainly due to the distance between the collection site and the recycling facility, but also other factors like the mode of transport used and the number of panels being transported. The cost of transportation can range from $1,000 to $2,000 per container, and each container can hold 300 to 500 solar panels.
  • Processing cost: the cost of recycling solar panels can vary depending on the method used, size/type/quantity of the panels, and how much purification is needed. The typical cost of mechanical recycling is between $20 and $30 per panel.

Although the cost of recycling solar panels can vary, it’s worth noting that at the moment it is generally more expensive than producing new solar panels. Unfortunately, this phenomenon often discourages people from starting new recycling facilities, further driving the costs higher.

With that being said, efforts are underway to reduce the cost of solar panel recycling by:

  • Developing more cost-effective solar panel recycling processes with more efficient waste management
  • Implementing regulations and government incentives to offset costs
  • Increasing the volume of recycled solar panels all around the world to lower the cost
  • Establishing partnerships and collaborations to share resources

Recycle your solar panels with Solar Recycling

As the adoption of solar panels continues to grow all around the world, the need for cost-effective and safe recycling methods is becoming more pressing. 

Proper recycling of solar panels at the end of their life cycle is critical for mitigating their environmental footprint while also lowering the cost of producing new solar panels. 

While there are challenges associated with solar panel recycling and the fact that it is still relatively expensive, companies like Solar Recycling offer safer and more cost-effective recycling methods of solar panels, and are paving the way in the effort to build a more environmentally responsible and sustainable solar industry.