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Solar policy
Solar Collection

CPSC SOLAR PANEL STEWARDSHIP 

Solar panel installation is increasing nationwide, with California playing an essential role in the country's net zero emissions goals. The California Product Stewardship Council (CPSC) is leading several solar panel recovery projects and policy developments in California that expand circular solar energy systems with reduced cost-burden on local governments and rate payers through producer engagement. Within California and across the country, there is an absence of recycling and reuse management standards for solar panels, leading owners, and installers, with little guidance on safe management. CPSC is working with local and state governments to employ proper standards and guide management to prioritize reuse.

SOLAR PANEL OVERVIEW

The California Energy Commission (CEC) is the oversight agency for solar panels entering the market. The Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Energy Code) have solar photovoltaic (PV) system and solar-ready requirements for all new homes built in California.

The CEC maintains a list of state-approved solar panel models, which includes critical information such as manufacturer, model number, and safety certifications. The list is designed so anyone can look up a panel and find information not readily available on the panel label. The list makes it easier for solar panels to be reused, reducing waste overall by providing critical information for safe re-installation, such as active fire safety certification(s). 

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REUSE & COLLECTION

Despite their serious potential to lead the charge for durable green energy, solar panels have a limited life span. Due to a current lack of understanding regarding recycling and reuse management standards, owners and installers don't have clear information on how to properly dispose of unwanted solar panels. 

Reuse is preferred over recycling for working panels as it promotes equity. Promoting the reuse of solar panels allows people to purchase solar panels at lower cost, ensuring greater access to green energy, and serving as a form of source reduction. For solar panels to be reused, they must have active safety certifications, verified on CEC's solar equipment list.

When solar panels are no longer working or ineligible for reuse, they become regulated by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC). DTSC regulates unwanted solar panels under the Universal Waste regulations, similar to electronic waste. Solar panels destined for recycling or disposal need to go through authorized handlers.

 

DTSC has classified organizations allowed to handle solar panels separate from the organizations allowed to recycle or treat them. Handlers are authorized only to transport solar panels. The list of DTSC-approved handlers includes organizations for distribution, warehouses, and reuse outlets. To recycle solar panels, handlers must apply for additional certification and follow specific regulations from DTSC for treatment. For a list of California universal waste recyclers that treat solar panels, please visit DTSC’s List of Recyclers that Treat [Solar Panel] Modules webpage.

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CPSC LED SOLAR PANEL PILOT PROJECTS

Below is a collection of short videos detailing CPSC’s recent solar panel pilot projects. Watch to learn more about CPSC's role in solar panel regulations, the active pilot projects in Butte County and the City of Santa Monica, CPSC's partnership with CalRecycle, and how you can help push solar panel recovery systems in California. 

CPSC is currently working closely with Zero Waste Marin to establish a baseline for solar panel collection and processing in Marin County that prioritizes reuse and prevents the improper disposal of panels. 

 

Learn more about Zero Waste Marin: zerowastemarin.org

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CPSC is currently working closely with StopWaste to develop direction and focus on the emerging field of solar panel reuse and recycling in Alameda County and California.

 

Learn more about StopWaste here: StopWaste.org/about-stopwaste

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OTHER SOLAR PANEL PROJECTS IN CALIFORNIA

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Zero Waste Sonoma's Solar Panel Pilot Project, in partnership with CalRecycle and the Conservation Corps North Bay, resulted in several free solar panel collection events held within Sonoma County for residents.

 

Learn more about the project here: ZeroWasteSonoma.gov/materials/solar-panels 

THE FUTURE OF SOLAR PANEL RECYCLING

CPSC is thrilled to be on the cutting-edge of solar panel reuse and recycling, working on legislation as the conversation shifts across the country. Many states, including California, have changed the classification of solar panels from hazardous waste to universal waste. The classification change makes solar panel disposal and recycling easier and less expensive. For a list of states that classify solar panels as universal waste, visit the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s State Universal Waste Programs webpage

While California is working to ensure solar panels are recycled properly through waste reclassification, other states have passed additional legislation. In 2017, Washington passed Senate Bill 5939, which promoted sustainable, local renewable energy by modifying tax incentives. The bill created a Photovoltaic Module Stewardship and Takeback Program, which required manufacturers of solar panels to provide a convenient and environmentally conscious way to recycle panels purchased after July 1st, 2017. 

One of the best ways to work towards a more sustainable future is to strive for extended producer responsibility (EPR) legislation. EPR holds producers accountable for their products’ environmental impact from creation to disposal. It promotes the development of greener products with lower environmental impacts and helps allocate funds to finance proper collection, treatment, recycling, and disposal systems for problematic products. Our legislation webpage lists some of the ways we strive to make this goal a reality.

SOLAR PANEL PRESS AND MEDIA

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