Solar Panel Waste- A New Global Environmental Threat

Solar energy is touted as clean, however, a study by Environmental Progress (EP) warns that toxic waste from solar panels now poses a global environmental threat.

Fueled partly by billions in government incentives, the industry is creating millions of solar panels each year and, in the process, millions of pounds of toxic sludge and contaminated water.

To dispose of this material, the companies must transport it by truck or rail far from their own plants to waste facilities hundreds and, in some cases, thousands of miles away. The fossil fuels used to transport that waste, experts say, is not typically considered in calculating solar’s carbon footprint, giving scientists and consumers who use the measurement to gauge a product’s impact on global warming the impression that solar is cleaner than it is.

Last November, Japan’s Environment Ministry issued a stark warning: the amount of solar panel waste Japan produces every year will rise from 10,000 to 800,000 tons by 2040, and the nation has no plan for safely disposing of it. Neither does California, a world leader in deploying solar panels.

Only Europe requires a solar panel maker to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their lives.

EP  further investigated the problem to see how big it really is, and found –

  1. Solar panels create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear plants.
  2. Solar waste outside of Europe today ends up in the larger global stream of electronic waste. In the US alone, which has more than 1.4 million solar energy installations now in use, including many already near the end of their 25-year lifespan, will see a big problem in disposal and recycling in near future as they are intricately constructed from a variety of materials, making it difficult to disassemble and recycle.
  3. In countries like China, India and Ghana, communities living near e-waste dumps often burn the waste in order to salvage the valuable copper wires for resale. Since this process requires burning off the plastic, the resulting smoke contains toxic fumes that are carcinogenic and teratogenic (birth-defect causing) when inhaled.

This is not to even mention the environmental damage done by making solar panels in the first place.

A 2013 investigation found that from 2007 to 2011, the manufacture of solar panels in California produced 46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water. Roughly 97 percent of it was taken to hazardous waste facilities throughout the state, but more than 1.4 million pounds were transported to nine other states.

That’s no way for a state to keep its carbon footprint small. Six years later, it’s safe to assume the amount of toxic waste is even higher as solar panel production continues to ramp up. One can very well image what must be the state of affairs in countries like India and China.

A solar powered world would produces 63,000 times the waste of a nuclear powered world. And over and above that, the solar world would produces no energy at night.

So lets be cautions and do not get carried away by all the hype…