Solar panels store up trouble for future if not properly recycled


The popularity of solar panels is storing up trouble for the environment if efforts are not made to recycle them, experts have warned.

Some 10 million new solar panels are being sold each year in the Netherlands. However, the only way to deal with discarded ones – estimated at some 250,000 by 2030 – is currently to shred them and use them as material to make concrete.

‘That is a waste of material,’ TNO reseacher Agnes Mewe told broadcaster NOS. ‘The panels are mostly glass but also contain valuable materials such as silicon and silver. And we should reuse those.’

The collection and processing of old solar panels is in the hands of producers organisation Stichting OPEN. Each member pays a fixed price of €0.13 per panel, which is not nearly enough to ensure sustainable processing in the future, director Jan Vlak said.

Vlak says solar panels should increase in price by up to €10 to enable high quality recycling and a fund should be established to finance it.

Another problem for the sector is the number of solar panel makers who are not paying for the reprocessing of old panels and are profiting from those who do. ‘That will need to addressed first,’ Vlak said,

The design of the panels – which are currently difficult to dismantle – will have to change as well. The TNO is currently working on solar panels that are completely circular.

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