What Can Be Done With Solar Panels? ♻️ Podcast Ep. 42 Don’t Be A Waster



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Transcript: What Can Be Done With Solar Panels?


Hello and welcome to another edition of our recycling podcast, Recycle: Don’t be a Waster! In today’s episode, we want to cover what maybe, not as the biggest story at the moment, but it will certainly become a big problem in a couple of years if people do not really come up with a good recycling solution. And that is the burgeoning waste from solar panels. Like all technologies from televisions to anything else. You know, there are early adopters. There’s, you know, when the next bunch whatever that’s called, and then there’s the mass market.


And clearly, solar panels are being… become more widely accepted in Australia, and also they’re clearly improving the behaviour, the performance. The efficiency of solar panels is improving all the time. So what is happening or expected to happen is that there will be an awful lot more solar panels installed, removed, disposed of over the next few years.


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The first… some of the stats are pretty amazing, and I suppose the what… what made us really produce this podcast today is that in Queensland, obviously, the Sunshine State so clearly, I assume that solar panels will be more effective in Queensland than elsewhere. In Queensland, they are bringing in rules or draft rules at the moment that are expected to go ahead under the power share government that will basically… is part of its draft. A product waste action plan that would in theory ban the dumping of solar panels within five to ten years at landfill and fundamentally mandate that they are recycled.


Act 2:What Can Be Done With Solar Panels?


So, you know I suppose, how big a problem is this the problem really? Seems to be very large indeed. And I suppose we wanted to look at that, you know, how big is the problem? Some of the news articles I’m really… here’s one from the Guardian newspaper: it says that Queensland alone was on track to have a further 25 million solar panels installed across the state over the next decade, which would create up to 17,000 tonnes of land for waste a year by 2030.


Currently, solar panels account for 1000 tonnes of yearly waste in Queensland. So basically, we don’t want to see those solar panels – I think we can all agree on this – we don’t want to see solar panels ending up in landfill waste. But I suppose how do we, you know, first of all, the questions are did people see this happening? Is it giving a bad reputation, to you know, new greener energies where there’s a lot of people argue that there are, you know, hidden negatives? And thirdly, you know, how do we actually… how do we actually recycle these things? What is the policy?


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So to date, it’s been, you know… we are dumping at landfill in Queensland. 1,000 tonnes of solar photovoltaic and battery storage was dumped in landfill across the state in 2019. And by all expectations are that this will significantly increase. So the government up there has… north of the Border… has dedicated roughly a quarter of a million dollars to research on how this can be dealt with. So I suppose the first question is can you recycle solar panels? The reality is yes. You can so… look we’ll give a brief overview as to how this is done.


Act 2:What Can Be Done With Solar Panels?


And I’m taking this from a website called eco active Eco a-c-t-i-f and this is a brief four-step overview as to how you would recycle solar panels. And in many regards, you know, these are e-waste, and so they do include viable materials from copper to rare earths, to different aspects – I’m assuming lithium and stuff like that. Also, if there’s a battery aspect to them, but I suppose we’re focusing more on the panels.


So the first step: they’re collected by appropriate companies that focus on recycling. So that would be somebody dedicated to picking them up and bringing them either from a transfer centre or something like that to a centralised plant or for the collection process. This is step two: the facilities then shred them into millions of very tiny fine pieces. By doing this, the recyclers will have an easier time extracting the different recyclable parts of a solar panel.


Step three: then you have… when you shredded it, as always, you have to separate the pieces. So once shredding is done, the shredded pieces from the panels now undergo a separation process. 10 different detectors separate glass, copper, wiring, steel, aluminium, silver paste, silicone and any other recyclables. there are different kinds of detectors that can separate these materials successfully such as detectors using colour or pattern sensors, magnetic technology or any other advanced technologies depending on the materials. And then finally, recyclers provide the recycled materials to different industries for the manufacture of new items.


Act 3:What Can Be Done With Solar Panels?


I suppose one of the big benefits that, I suppose, the Queensland government is promoting with this… is that this will help build, well obviously, it prevents waste going to landfill. So we need fewer landfills. And clearly, we’re not dumping potentially toxic e-waste in landfills. And this the argument is… that this will lead to more modern technologies, more modern in recycled plants and create jobs, ensuring that this is a, you know, a circular process.


This sort of follows on from bans on E-Waste in Victoria, which banned them from 2019. So we’re proposing that this will stop the stuff going to landfill. I believe that this is already implemented on various types of e-waste in South Australia and the SCT, and I think we’ll probably do a future episode on how successful that… it… how that’s working out. So I suppose another question then is, you know, the actual environmental impact or the lifetime of how long do recycling solar panels actually work. And realistically, we’re, I suppose, as a country, we are pushing solar because a. we have a lot of solar energy.


And we’ve quite a regionally this been… geographically spread populace and so localised energy production such as solar is very beneficial to us, particularly in a state like Queensland where it’s more geographically distributed than, say, New South Wales or Victoria. But clearly, there’s… as the as the technology improves, it’s a bit like your television set. There will be an upgrading of… to more efficient, more powerful, more effective thing. And with that, there is environmental, you know, there is an environmental downside that are… we are… we factoring that into… to the environmental balance or when we weigh up on the scales.


Act 4:What Can Be Done With Solar Panels?


You know, coal-fired or traditional energy, you know, polluting energy versus this newer… clean, or, you know, renewable energy. Are we really balancing it correctly? So, I think, a real study needs to be done on that. Clearly, we should not be dumping these things at landfill. Clearly, they contain a lot of air valuable materials and b. potentially toxic materials if disposed of in the wrong way. So I think Queensland is certainly going down the right path. And I think, I think, maybe in a future episode, we might cover how… what is the useful life of a solar panel just to see… just to see what the actual value of these things is and how long, you know, really so we can do… to a proper analysis on the actual lifetime of a solar panel.


I’m just going to actually do a quick Google on how long a solar panel lasts because, as we know, nearly all technology, you know: it doesn’t last forever. So here in Forbes Magazine… is saying that the industry standard for most solar panels is 25 to 30 years. Most rapidable manufacturers offer production warranties for 25 years and the average break-even point for solar panel energy savings occurs six to ten years after installation. So that’s, I’m assuming, that’s a household where you invest; you pay for, you know… there’s a subsidy from government also.


But you pay, to some extent, to install those solar panels, and then you save a little bit every year. And then after a number of years, you should be in a profitable situation. So yes, that is the situation. Clearly, we’ll be adding huge amounts of, you know. And obviously, as homes have been renovated etc. and there’ll be damaged… storm damage, you know, natural attrition of these machine. You know, panels that are, of course, being placed on roofs. And let’s be honest, Queensland is susceptible to, you know, extreme weather conditions, and we’ve certainly seen that over the last number of years.


Act 5:What Can Be Done With Solar Panels?


So there will always be wear and tear. There will always be damage. I think it… I personally think it’s a good idea to ban… let’s reduce landfill whenever possible. So if we can recycle these things, I think it’s a very good idea. I’m also the view we shouldn’t be mandating stuff before we have an alternative. So clearly, we should have on alternative recycling process system. And that covers collection through to recycling through to where these parts. When we do recycle, where they’re going to. And because again, we get into the same old story. And if we do not have a manufacturing base in Australia, and if we’re not making these products in Australia… where is this, you know, recycled material going to go? Such as glass etc.


I think that’s certainly less of an issue for items, you know, silver, copper – those aspects – aluminium. I think those are readily recyclable in Australia. But I think some of the other smaller niche items, that is where, you know, it could become difficult. I think we’ll leave it there today. I think all in all this is a good new story, I think, you know, I think it’ll be foolish for this country not to have solar panels on a lot of roofs. Certainly in the more Sunny areas. And I think, I think we’re just going to see more of it. So this… I think… this should go hand in love. I think if we’re installing solar panels, you know, we shouldn’t. It’s a product stewardship and we’ve covered that in previous articles, I think, if you’re manufacturing these panels.


I think you should also be part of the solution to the lifetime or the, you know, the disposal of them also. So we’ll leave it there today and I wish you everybody a good weekend. So remember, Recycle: Don’t be a Waster!


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