Circular Economy has been a popular topic of conversation during the recently concluded High Level Political Forum for SDGs at the United Nations. We are exploring an item of waste that many do not fully understand how to dispose. Carefully applied principles of circular economy could be the solution for this emerging issue.

In recent times there has been a significant amount of media coverage on the solar waste being accumulated in countries. These have mostly been developed countries who has been using PV solutions for few decades already. However, recently there has been reports from the field from camps for displaced communities of solar waste accumulation and difficulty of removal. With more large camps opting to implement solar PV solutions, this could potentially be a greater challenge in the future.

“The problem of solar panel disposal “will explode with full force in two or three decades and wreck the environment” because it “is a huge amount of waste and they are not easy to recycle.”” states an article published on Forbes online portal on May 23, 2018.

“Last November, Japan’s Environment Ministry issued a 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.” claims an article published on Environmental Progress.  It continues to state that It is found that Solar panels can create 300 times more toxic waste per unit of energy than do nuclear power plants. More alarmingly  “If solar and nuclear produce the same amount of electricity over the next 25 years that nuclear produced in 2016, and the wastes are stacked on football fields, the nuclear waste would reach the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa (52 meters), while the solar waste would reach the height of two Mt. Everests (16 km).”

In many developing countries, communities living near e-waste dumps often burn the waste in order to salvage the valuable metals like copper. The resulting smoke from the solar and e-waste contains toxic fumes. The concern

At domestic level there are options of trading or handing over the solar panels to the authorities. However, when it comes to off-grid energy systems, large scale deployment of panels, and mobile energy solutions using solar panels, this is no longer an option. Organizations like IEEE have considered the possibility of solar waste accumulation and he risks of it and included   “repair of deployed systems and safe disposal of components when decommissioned” in their project description for their smart village program.

Due to above concerns we consider that it is extremely valuable to account for solar waste that is added to the environment so that responsible/interested parties can take action on safely removing, recycling the waste related to solar and other forms of  renewable energy generation.