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How Environmentally Friendly Are Solar Panels?

Solar power is touted as an extremely earth-friendly form of energy, and manufacturers and users claim it is the cleanest energy source available today.

If we look at the workings of a solar panel, we will find it exceptionally environmentally friendly with almost no harm to the earth. The panel uses sunlight and produces electricity. There is no emission of harmful gasses or chemicals. The widely available sun energy is used to harvest electricity without harming nature.

But this is one side of the coin. What about the process of making solar panels and the recycling of materials once the life of solar panels is over?

How Earth-Friendly is the Manufacturing of Solar Panels?

Solar panels create hazardous waste at both ends of their life cycle. The solar panel manufacturing process, like all electronic manufacturing, relies on highly toxic substances, including cadmium, mercury, and chromium.

First, quartz or quartz-rich sand is mined. Then, it is heated at a very high temperature to mix it with other elements. For maintaining a high temperature, gas or coal is used, which creates harmful and toxic gasses for the environment. Thus, non-renewable fossil fuels are involved in making renewable solar energy sources.

For the making of solar panels, solar-grade silicon is needed, which is obtained through processing. Unfortunately, the processing also involves various hazardous chemicals that must be disposed of properly.

There are many companies making solar panels, but the question is whether these companies dispose of the waste properly or not. If the waste is not disposed of properly, it will harm the environment.

Ultimately, the creation of a solar panel results in a toxic sludge that must be processed on-site or shipped to a processing facility elsewhere. The sludge is detrimental to the environment. But lifecycle analysts point out that this transportation is often not included in calculations of solar panels’ carbon footprint.

National data is not available, but we do know how much toxic sludge the solar manufacturers in California produce. Responding to a request from the Associated Press, the California Department of Toxic Substances Control reported that between 2007 and 2011, the 17 solar manufacturing companies in the state created 46.5 million pounds of toxic sludge and poisoned water. About 3 percent, or 1.4 million pounds, of the polluted materials were transported to nine other states for processing.

How Solar Panels Harm the Environment After Their Useful Lives

It is very clear that the production of solar panels is not sustainable as not all polluted materials are processed properly. 

Unfortunately, the death of solar panels is also toxic. The same dangerous materials that created the manufacturing sludge are also present within each panel. The disposal of solar panels does not look like a problem at the moment. But in twenty-odd years, when today’s pioneer panels are at the end of their lifecycle, our nation will face a landfill crisis.

Defunct solar panels that are simply dumped will leach noxious substances into nearby watersheds, while materials that are sent overseas for dismantling will poison third-world denizens who seek out a living, melting down electronics for the precious metals they contain. Such countries do not have a proper processing and recycling system, so they not only jeopardize the environment but their health and safety as well.

Properly Dispose of Your Solar Panel Waste with WasteXpress

After looking at the adverse effect of solar panels, the fledgling solar industry is just beginning to tackle these pollution problems. Of the 81 members of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), seven have signed a pledge for environmental responsibility. A few solar panel recycling companies have cropped up as well.

One solar panel maker, First Solar, Inc., has created a cradle-to-grave program that will gather customers’ spent solar panels. They provide a complete end-to-end solution, including the proper processing of the waste produced at the making of solar panels and the proper recycling system.

Many companies are trying to make the production of solar panels as green as possible and here at WasteXpress we’re doing our part. We’ve adopted proper methods for disposal and recycling of solar panels to save the environment. 

We have been serving small businesses and Fortune 500 companies throughout the Pacific Northwest for over 30 years. You can count on us for reliable, compliant, and environmentally friendly solar waste disposal services.

Call 855-224-3206 or fill out our online form to get a free estimate within 24 hours.

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