Where do old solar panels go?



Where Do Old Solar Panels Go?

Solar energy is becoming increasingly popular as a viable alternative to traditional energy sources. As more households and businesses make the switch to solar panels, the eventual disposal of solar panels has become an issue of concern. To answer the question of what happens to old solar panels, it is important to explore the various disposal processes and federal regulations, as well as the safety and health concerns associated with incineration. Additionally, there are new solar panel recycling efforts that are being developed; however, there are certain challenges preventing their widespread implementation.

Where do Old Solar Panels Go?

Solar panels generally last about 25-30 years, but due to a variety of reasons, sometimes the solar panels must be removed before their estimated life ends. The first step in the disposal of an old solar panel is to remove the frame and junction box. The remaining components – mainly the glass, silicon cells, metal, plastic, cables and other materials are crushed, shredded and milled. In this process, glass, aluminum and copper are recovered, while the rest of the materials, including the silicon solar cells, are incinerated.

Federal Regulation of Disposal Process

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other state and local governmental agencies have regulations regarding the disposal of solar panels. These regulations focus on environmental standards, as well as waste and resource management. For example, the EPA has outlined criteria to determine whether or not a product or material can be classified as “hazardous” or “non-hazardous”. The EPA recommends following these criteria to ensure that the disposal of solar panels is properly managed.

Safety and Health Risks of Incineration

When solar panels are incinerated, they may release pollutants into the air. These pollutants can include heavy metals, cyanide compounds, and dioxins. In particular, lead, cadmium, and arsenic may be released by the burning of solar cells. It is therefore important for waste management and disposal practices to closely monitor the air quality to reduce the risks posed to the environment and human health from pollutants released from the incineration of solar panels.

Current Recycling Practices of Solar Panels

As technologists and scientists continue to explore ways to reuse solar panels, new recycling efforts have arisen that are focused on disassembling solar panels and separating the specific components. To further conserve resources, some businesses have begun using existing pieces of solar panels in the building of new solar panels.

Challenges Faced in Recycling Old Solar Panels

One of the major challenges in recycling old solar panels is the use of rare materials in their manufacturing. Solar panels require specific components to function and many of these components can only be obtained from rare and expensive materials. In addition, the cost of recycling old solar panels can be prohibitive, making it difficult for recycling plants to stay in business.


Solar panels are becoming increasingly popular as a viable alternative to traditional energy sources. However, the disposal of these panels must be done responsibly in order to minimize any potential risks to the environment and human health. From the discussion above, it can be seen that the disposal of solar panels involves crushing, shredding and milling, as well as possible incineration. Federal regulations are in place to ensure that these processes are done in an environmentally safe manner. Additionally, there are new initiatives in place to recycle solar panels and reuse the specific components; however, these efforts may be hindered by the costs associated with recycling and the materials used in the manufacturing process. In conclusion, the answer to the following question: Where do old solar panels go? can be seen to be a multi-faceted process that is guided by federal regulations and subject to various challenges.

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