Solar panels' recycle emergence

written by Costanza Gabbrielli

There's a paradox in the growing global appetite for greener energy. As sales of solar panels and wind turbines increase, so too does the scale of an often-overlooked problem now being stored for future generations. What happens to all the "green" infrastructure when it reaches the end of its life?
When early-generation green technology is replaced, much of it now finds its way into landfill or incinerators. This is not only a blow to waste-reduction efforts, adding hundreds of thousands of tons of rubbish to the global tally every year, but also is also a colossal missed opportunity. Solar panels comprise metals and glass, which, if they were separated and captured, could be reused in the manufacture of other products.
Effective, efficient recycling systems are needed if alternative technologies are to be truly green, and they need to be established quickly.
It is possible, through innovative technologies still being developed, to recycle more than 90 percent of a solar panel. But, given the volatility in the value of the resulting raw materials, this is a high-risk sector to develop, and research and development is lacking. Basic recycling schemes do exist, but often focus on two valuable components -- the glass and aluminum frame, for instance -- and discard the rest, including silver, silicon and tin, because it is not yet cost-effective to recycle them.
I am passionate about the need to make total recycling of green technology a reality, and I am confident that the recycling of green technology will, one day, be a profitable industry in itself. There will come a time when recycling is so widespread and efficient that recycling companies will have to pay consumers or organizations for most of the materials they take for recycling, sell the materials they extract and make a profit.
A healthy economy requires constant production and consumption. But with a scarcity of natural resources, and to achieve a sustainable future, we must strive for a circular economy in which products that have reached the end of their life are no longer seen as waste, but as a valuable resource.
What the sector needs now, though, is a kick-start. The growth of the green energy industry has been highly subsidized, now a catalyst for development of the recycling of green-energy technology is needed, not in the form of government subsidies, but through regulation, creating the conditions in which research can be done, efficiencies made and a profitable industry created. 
It is a fundamental step which I truly hope will be made as soon as possible.