Is the U.S. heading toward a solar panel waste crisis?

U.S. home installations of solar panels have rebounded after a pandemic slump, and analysts expect the capacity to quadruple in the next 10 years

While that may be good news for fans of renewable energy, there’s a dark cloud on the horizon, warns a recent report from Harvard Business Review.

Customers are beginning to trade their existing panels for newer, cheaper, more efficient models. The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) projects that “large amounts of annual waste are anticipated by the early 2030s” and could total 78 million tonnes by 2050.

But HBR says these predictions are based on customers keeping their panels in place for the entire 30-year life cycle. However, if the cost of trading up is low enough, and the efficiency and compensation rate are high enough, HBR expects many customers to make the switch earlier—which could produce 50 times more waste than IRENA anticipates in just four years. That figure translates to around 315,000 metric tonnes of waste for just residential installations.

HBR noted that First Solar is the sole U.S. panel manufacturer it knows of with an up-and-running recycling initiative, which only applies to the company’s own products at a global capacity of two million panels per year and an estimated cost of $20-$30 to recycle one panel. Sending that same panel to a landfill would cost a mere $1-$2.

Detaching and removing the panels requires specialized labor, and some governments may classify solar panels as hazardous waste due to the small amounts of heavy metals (cadmium, lead, etc.) they contain.

By 2035, discarded panels would outweigh new units sold by 2.56 times, HBR says.

Source: “The Dark Side of Solar Power,” Harvard Business Review, June 18, 2021


Pfizer Inc. is pausing distribution of Chantix after finding elevated levels of cancer-causing agents called nitrosamines in the pills. The drugmaker also voluntarily recalled 12 lots of the anti-smoking drug.

Pfizer said that while long-term ingestion of N-nitroso-varenicline may be associated with a theoretical potential increased cancer risk in humans, there is no immediate risk to patients taking this medication.

Pfizer noted that nitrosamines are common in water and foods, including cured and grilled meats, dairy products and vegetables.

Chantix was approved by the FDA in 2006 as a prescription medication to help adults aged 18 and over quit smoking and is used for 12-24 weeks.

Source: “Pfizer halts distribution of anti-smoking drug after finding carcinogen,” Reuters, June 30, 2021;, July 19, 2021