Could Social Influence Be Our Greatest Hope in Tackling the Solar Panel End-of-Life Crisis?

“The bump in recycling from social influence shows that adopting a social perspective is important to fully realize and achieve higher material recovery.”

Julien Walzberg, NREL

Could social influence be our greatest hope in tackling the solar panel crisis? Users must participate in recycling to meet the US goals. Around the world, 70,000 solar panels are installed every hour. This number is growing, along with the volume of end-of-life modules. 

We must repurpose and recycle these materials. In doing so, we can prevent the sustainability strides that have already been made from being erased through the scrapping of these materials.

The benefits of recycling and reuse strategies are not simply to save landfill space and deter toxic waste.  We can’t extract endless virgin materials to make solar panels. We must recycle and reuse those valuable resources. This reduces energy consumption and conserves scarce natural resources.  This becomes extremely important as we continue down the path of powering the world with solar energy.

Solar recycling efforts in the U.S. can only succeed if solar owners/producers actively participate in recycling before legislation forces their participation.

Recycling is considered expensive by many companies. This is primarily because it is not a common expense. It is less costly to landfill the panels. In the past, there has been a scarcity of local recyclers that will take solar panels.

This is changing. Recyclers are scaling up to be able to handle solar panels in larger numbers. In order for this to grow, there needs to be a demand for these services. Otherwise, if we wait until legislation forces companies into action, the number of solar panels will be unmanageable. In addition, there won’t be the needed infrastructure in place to fulfill these services.

We need to start now. 

Studies on what shapes human behavior around the decision to recycle, show us the importance of building public awareness.

“Informational influence shapes behavior through the internalization process. Individuals believe that their behavior in a specific circumstance should meet with peers’ approval; hence, they adopt social norms as personal norms. To this end, this research disentangles the informational and normative influences of social norms on recycling behavior.”

How do social norms influence recycling behavior in a collectivistic society? by Metehan FeridunSorkun

What this report shows in painfully technical details, is that early adopters help set the trend for others to follow. When PV owners know fellow PV owners who recycle, and there is a general positive attitude toward recycling, the recycling rate increases.

Social influence could be our greatest influencer.

If true, what can we do about it? If you have broken or damaged solar panels, refuse to landfill them.  Recycle the broken panels and sell the unbroken ones for reuse. Then, tell everyone you’re doing it through your marketing, PR, and social media posts.  Let your employees know that you have a recycling policy, which they can be proud of. By doing so, it’s not just your panels you’re recycling, but you are also influencing others to do it.  The impact your company makes on this one thing can make a huge difference. 

So, taking the words out of Nike’s mouth, “Just do it!” Do the right thing, not because you’re legislated to do it, but because you believe in the part you are playing in the transition to cleaner energy.  Your recycling efforts multiply into larger-scale results as you influence others to do it as well. You are, simply, working to create a sustainable world fueled by renewable resources.

Recycle – and tell everybody you’re doing it.

Dr. Janette Freeman, sometimes called, “The solar panel recycling evangelist,” is passionate about saving the landfill from the millions of solar panels which will be coming to end-of-life in the years ahead.  She is the Director of Business Development for FabTech Solar Solutions, which does solar panel refurbishing and recycling.

Contact:  Janette Freeman   480-813-7280 Ext 108

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