Assessing the Solar Recycling Landscape: Part 1 Header Image

Greentech Renewables has published several articles covering solar recycling, from Can Solar Panels Be Recycled? to The State of the Solar Panel Lifecycle. This two-part article series dives deep into solar recycling opportunities for the future. 

NOTE: Greentech Renewables does not offer recycling services. This article serves to inform our audience about the state of development within the American solar recycling industry. 

As the United States progressively invests in renewable energy, solar power is emerging as an indispensable part of the shift toward a sustainable future. Photovoltaic (PV) panels have become a common sight on rooftops and solar farms worldwide. While the environmental merits of solar power are widely acknowledged, it is critical to understand the implications of recycling solar modules to align their lifecycle with industry-wide sustainability objectives.

The solar industry now faces a question that challenges the environmental credibility of solar module production and distribution. How can solar power be sustainable if its activities increase carbon emissions elsewhere in its lifecycle? Several notable points demonstrate the environmental and economic benefits of evolving recycling practices.

1) Reducing E-Waste and Landfill Burden

Solar modules contain valuable materials such as silicon, glass, aluminum, and copper that can be recovered and reused through recycling processes. By recycling solar modules, we can prevent these materials from ending up in landfills, reducing electronic waste and  minimizing the environmental burden associated with their disposal. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) estimates that by 2050, cumulative solar panel waste could reach up to 78 million metric tons globally if not properly managed (1). According to a report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), recycling solar modules can divert approximately 95% of their materials from ending up in landfills (2).

2) Resource Conservation and Raw Material Recovery

Recycling solar modules enables the recovery of valuable resources that can be reintegrated into the manufacturing process. Silicon, for example, is a primary component of solar cells, and recycling allows for the reclamation of silicon, reducing the need for extracting and processing new raw materials. This resource conservation helps preserve natural resources and reduces energy consumption associated with the production of new solar modules. A study published in the journal ‘Energy Policy’ indicates that recycling solar panels can recover  approximately 90% of the glass and 95% of the semiconductor material, including valuable silicon (3). The European Commission estimates that recycling solar modules can recover up to 95% of glass, 85% of aluminum frames, and 80% of silicon-based semiconductors (4). 

3) Energy and Carbon Footprint Reduction

Producing solar modules requires energy and generates carbon emissions. By recycling modules, we can significantly reduce the energy and carbon footprint associated with their manufacturing. Recycling processes consume less energy compared to producing new  modules from scratch, leading to a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and supporting our efforts to combat climate change. The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE) states that recycling silicon-based solar modules can save up to 200 kg of CO2 emissions per square meter compared to manufacturing new modules (5). According to a study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), recycling solar panels can  reduce the energy demand for module manufacturing by up to 75% (6). 

4) Job Creation and Economic Opportunities

The recycling of solar modules also presents economic benefits. Establishing robust recycling infrastructure can create new job opportunities in areas such as module collection, sorting, dismantling, and material recovery. Moreover, recycling facilities can serve as centers of innovation and research, driving technological advancements in the field of solar module  recycling. A report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) indicates that the recycling and repair of solar panels have the potential to create up to 160,000 new jobs by 2030 (7). The Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) highlights that establishing a robust solar module  recycling infrastructure can lead to the development of a new sector within the clean energy industry, providing economic growth and innovation opportunities (8). 

5) Extended Product Lifespan and Circular Economy

Through recycling, solar modules can have an extended lifespan, promoting a circular economic approach. Rather than discarding modules at the end of their operational life, recycling allows for the recovery of valuable materials and their reintroduction into the production cycle. This closed-loop system reduces waste and maximizes the utilization of  resources, fostering a sustainable and circular approach to solar energy. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) emphasizes that proper recycling practices can extend the lifespan of solar modules by reusing valuable materials, contributing to a circular economy  approach (1). A study published in the journal Solar Energy Materials and Solar Cells states that recycling silicon based solar modules can reduce the demand for primary silicon by up to 20% (9). 

PV Recycling Providers

Solar installers are pivotal in bringing solar power to residences and businesses, but they face unique challenges in managing waste generated during installations. Broken, damaged, and end-of-life modules need proper handling to limit environmental harm and cultivate a circular economy within the industry. While producing solar modules, extracting rare-earth elements, and generating waste at job sites pose obstacles to global recognition of the renewable energy industry’s sustainability potential, new efforts are underway to address these concerns.

As part of the recycling effort and to ensure the appropriate disposal of solar modules, individuals and organizations can avail themselves of the services of specialized module recycling companies. Several US-based companies are leading the charge in module recycling, offering specialized services to manage waste generation issues during solar installations.


Headquartered in Marietta, GA, Green Clean Solar offers full-scope solutions for landfill-bound waste on solar sites. The company assists in achieving a landfill-free status, promotes responsible packaging practices, and ensures a clean installation site.

Cleanlites Solar Recycling

Operating nationally, Cleanlites Solar Recycling collects and recycles solar modules and related components. They ensure proper disposal of broken or damaged modules, mitigating waste generation challenges at the installation site. 


WE RECYCLE SOLAR also specializes in solar panel recycling. They offer services for recycling and recovering materials from solar modules, contributing to a more sustainable approach to solar energy.

First Solar

First Solar contributes to a circular economy by converting mining byproducts into a leading eco-efficient photovoltaic (PV) technology manufactured using less energy, water, and semiconductor than commercially available PV technologies. First Solar offers “Recycling Service Agreements” to help PV module owners meet their end-of-life (EOL) obligations cost-effectively and responsibly.

These US-based companies exemplify a commitment to module recycling and provide valuable services to address the specific challenges faced during solar installations. Please note that the list of recycling companies provided is non-exhaustive as this effort grows throughout the US. We recommend further research and due diligence to find the most suitable recycling partner for each specific need.

Research and Local Resources

A suggested starting point is identifying local recycling facilities offering solar module recycling. Check with local waste management authorities, environmental agencies, or renewable energy associations to gather information about companies operating in your area. 

Online Directories

Online directories that provide comprehensive listings of module recycling companies are available. Organizations like the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) offer resources and directories of recycling services.

Manufacturer and Installer Programs

Solar module manufacturers and installation companies often suggest recycling opportunities or programs. Many renewable energy manufacturers offer take-back programs or collaborate with recycling entities to encourage proper product disposal. 

Industry Networks and Events

Renewable energy industry networks, forums, and events can glean insight into additional recycling resources. These platforms often provide opportunities to connect with module recycling experts and learn about the latest advancements and initiatives in recycling best practices.=

The challenges associated with recycling solar modules are becoming increasingly urgent throughout the solar industry. Adopting comprehensive recycling practices can thrust the industry forward on the path to mitigate the counterargument of curbing electronic waste, preserving precious resources, lessening greenhouse gas emissions, and stimulating economic expansion. Adopting a sustainable strategy for solar module disposal is not only in harmony with our environmental objectives but also paves the way for a more eco-friendly and sustainable future. Stay updated with Greentech Renewables’ articles covering industry trends, policy developments, evolving solar innovations, and more by signing up for the monthly newsletter today.


You can learn more about solar recycling initiatives in the United States in our recent webinar, Fostering Collaboration in Solar Recycling.


Resources cited:

1. International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). "End-of-Life Management: Solar Photovoltaic  Panels." (2016). 

2. National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). "Solar Photovoltaic End-of-Life Recycling in the  United States." (2016). 

3. Olsen, Karen Holm et al. "End-of-Life Management of Photovoltaic Panels, Including Recycling  Possibilities." Energy Policy 38.11 (2010): 7547-7556. 

4. European Commission. "Solar Panel Recycling: From Regulatory Obligations to Business  Opportunities." (2017). 

5. Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems (ISE). "Life Cycle Assessment of Crystalline  Photovoltaics in the Energy Supply System of a German Multi-Family House." (2006).

6. Hagelüken, Christian et al. "The Solar Panel Recycling Market – A Comparative Analysis."  Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Energy Initiative Working Paper (2016).

7. International Labour Organization (ILO). "World Employment and Social Outlook: Greening with  Jobs." (2018).

8. Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "Solar Industry FAQs: Solar Recycling." (2021). 9. Sinha, Parikhit et al. "Recycling of End-of-Life Crystalline Silicon Photovoltaic Modules." Solar Energy  Materials and Solar Cells 131 (2014): 271-277.