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Recycling a solar panel takes 90 seconds

Today, 90% of old photovoltaic panels are recycled, and almost 95% of their components are recyclable. All in a minute and a half!

Installing solar panels is good for the environment. Because they produce green, sustainable energy. But also because, at the end of their life, their recovery and recycling rate is close to 95%. Rare for an electrical "waste product"! Even Greenpeace acknowledges it ...

Since 2016, manufacturers, importers and installers have been required to collect and recycle used solar panels free of charge. In Flanders and Brussels, however, consumers must pay an eco-contribution of €2 per panel (invoiced at the time of purchase). Not in Wallonia. If your installation dates from before 2016, you pay nothing, regardless of your region of residence.

Which photovoltaic panel components can be recycled?

Almost everything can be recycled in a solar panel. Starting with glass, which makes up 80% of it. But this is also true of the aluminum frame, silicon cells and copper. Even the inverter, the system's central component, is recycled. Each component is sent to its own recycling channel.

What materials are solar panels recycled from?

  • Glass fiber, bottles, jars...
  • Aluminum cans, among others
  • Silicon in new photovoltaic cells, for example
  • Copper is melted and reprocessed

The exception? Plastic junction boxes not yet recycled.

Are all solar panels recyclable?

For the moment, only those made from silicon can be recycled in an environmentally-friendly way. The good news? They're the most numerous! They account for 90% of installed photovoltaic panels. This figure is already considerable, and is set to rise even further in the future.

Does this mean that the remaining 10% of panels remain "polluting" waste? Yes and no. These panels, which contain selenium, cadmium or gallium, have to undergo chemical treatment before they can be crushed to separate the materials that can be recycled.

What is the carbon footprint of solar panels?

The carbon footprint of solar panels has decreased considerably over the last thirty years. According to the IPCC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, they would have an impact of 27g ofCO2 equivalent per kWh.

There's no doubt that recyclability has played a decisive role in reducing the ecological impact of photovoltaic panels.

Steps in recycling a solar panel

There are two types: primary dismantling and secondary dismantling. The first is to separate the panel from its frame and connectors. In the second stage, each component (glass, metals, silicon, etc.) is isolated layer by layer by heat treatment and subsequent grinding.

Operation time: 90 seconds per panel, i.e. 40 in one hour. In Belgium, it's PV CycleBelgium which collects and recycles end-of-life or defective solar panels.

From support mechanisms for photovoltaics still exist, and investing in solar energy is definitely worthwhile, whatever your region.

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