To ensure more of the valuable resources found within solar panels are recycled, Bundaberg Regional Council has changed the way it accepts the panels at its waste facilities.
Waste and Recycling portfolio spokesperson Cr Tanya McLoughlin said solar panels were Australia's fastest growing electronic waste stream and Bundaberg was topping the list when it came to solar panel installation.
“Last year the region was named Australia’s rooftop solar capital after making the number one spot in the nation’s list of the most solar-friendly suburbs,” Cr McLoughlin said.
“There were 13,942 solar panel installations from 2019 to 2020 according to research by the Clean Energy Council, however, what happens to all of those solar panels when they need to be replaced?”
Cr McLoughlin said it wasn't an issue that was often highlighted but, with solar becoming increasingly popular, solar panel recycling was something that needed to be addressed.
“When solar panels make their way to landfill as general waste it increases the chance of heavy metals including lead, tin, cadmium, copper, and other harmful components leaching into our local groundwater supply,” she said.
“Properly recycling of these heavy metals, as well as the high purity silicon, aluminium, and plastic components of the panels is environmentally and economically the best long-term solution to this growing waste problem.”
The Federal Environment Minister has placed solar panels on the priority list 2020/21 for a product stewardship which will put additional pressure on the solar industry to create a return scheme similar to drumMuster, Paintback and Containers for Change.
Until then, Bundaberg Regional Council has introduced a $30 per panel waste disposal charge to all solar panels delivered to the Bundaberg Waste Management Facility at University Drive, Branyan.
Cr McLoughlin said the charge would cover the costs of the process to have solar panels recycled through specialised organisations that offered pick-up services.
She said there was the option for residents and businesses to also utilise other local services which would see the valuable resources recycled.
“There are a number of viable pick-up services for the effective recycling of PV panels that exist within the region, including Reclaim PV and Ecoactiv,” Cr McLoughlin said.
“These services produce a greater recovery rate to manufacture new panels or provide more resource materials for other products.”
Solar panel recycling services on offer
Reclaim PV now operates from Brisbane and has collected over 30,000 panels in Queensland since February 2020.
According to Director Clive Fleming the establishment of a national recovery and recycling network was an absolute necessity for the solar panel industry and for Australia, which already has a solar panel disposal challenge on its hands.
“Australia’s rooftop solar installations are the highest in the world (on a per capita basis), with approximately 60 million or 21.4 gigawatts installed so far and research is suggesting that there will be more than 1 million panels requiring replacement annually by 2031,” he said.
“We need a nation-wide approach to managing the replacement and recycling of faulty, non-performing and end of life solar panels before this gets unmanageable and we start to see 2000 tonnes of waste making its way to landfill annually.
“Reclaim PV is committed to providing an end-to-end solution to meet this challenge and to engage with industry, commercial users of solar panels and all levels of Government to introduce sustainable recovery and recycling practices across the whole supply chain to support the circular economy.”
Reclaim PV provide a collection service for all parts of Australia, including Bundaberg.
Presently, the fee for this collection is calculated based on freight costs and handling costs.
Find out more on the website here.