Beginning January 1st, 2021 a new rule will take effect in California classifying decommissioned solar panels as "universal waste" rather than hazardous waste, as is currently the classification under California law. Experts believe this new regulation could lead the way for a much more extensive solar panel recycling industry as photovoltaic and PV module materials will be processed more easily and efficiently.
Nearly all the materials contained in solar panels are recyclable or can be reused, however, the presence of heavy metals such as lead, copper, and cadmium, among others have resulted in the photovoltaic panels previous classification of hazardous waste under federal and local waste control laws. This designation has made it more expensive to store, transport handle, and ultimately, recycle under current regulations.
This long-anticipated move comes as the Golden State continues its leadership in solar energy production, and will be enforcing a new residential standard requiring all homes to be equipped with solar photovoltaic systems.
The issue of solar panel waste, however, is not unique to California. Despite the challenges presented by the Covid-19 pandemic and Trump administration import tariffs, the industry continues its rapid growth and it is believed that 78 million tons of solar panel waste will be created by 2050, globally. Just looking at the US alone, it is anticipated that PV solar waste may increase by 1.3 million metric tons in 2040 and continue to increase to nearly 5.5 million metric tons in 2050.
Under President-elect Joe Biden's ambitious, yet essential goal to work towards a carbon-free U.S. power sector by 2035 and new zero-carbon emissions by 2050, solar power is expected to play a leading role. Likewise, Congress may potentially re-evaluate the existing solar tax credit for residential solar installations which is set to reduce slightly at the beginning of the year. Under the current schedule, taxpayers can expect 26% of the cost of solar panels for the 2020 tax year and 22% for 2021.