6 Waste Disposal Tips for Solar EPC Contractors
Navigate the challenges of solar waste disposal — and reduce project costs — with these expert tips.
The Essential Waste Management Guide for Solar Installation
Solar renewable energy technologies have seen a 33% rise over the last decade. The growth of renewable energy production has brought new challenges — including how to dispose of the plastic, glass, metals, cardboard, wiring and wood pallets from large solar waste projects.
While specific policies regarding solar waste disposal vary from state to state, many options exist. Looking for ways to effectively manage your debris while meeting solar recycling and diversion requirements? Check out these six essential waste removal tips for utility-size solar farm, commercial solar installation and residential solar installation projects — with input from experts at EcoWatch, Solar Panels Network USA and our own solar waste team.
Solar Waste FAQs
Can solar waste be recycled?
“Most solar panels are built from recyclable materials,” Karsten Neumeister, the energy editor at EcoWatch, explained. The materials involved in racking and installing a solar project — including wood pallets, cardboard, glass, plastic buckets, and various metals from the solar panels themselves (e.g., aluminum, copper, silver and zinc) — can be recycled. The ability to recycle these materials depends on the capabilities of your local waste facilities — one of many challenges in recycling solar waste.
How do I dispose of solar panels?
According to the EPA, solar panels discarded in landfills are at risk of leaking the cadmium and lead often used in soldering each module into the soil. Because of this, some solar panels can be classified as hazardous waste.
To dispose of solar panels safely, modules should be taken to e-waste facilities. However, access to e-waste facilities largely depends on availability. Solar panel recycling, in general, is very limited in most areas due to facilities being too small to process large objects or there being no facilities capable of dismantling solar panels and diverting their materials at all.
Find out if your area has local R2 and e-waste facilities nearby.
The How-to Guide for Solar Waste Disposal
With some solar farms now decades old and the number of solar installation projects increasing year over year, the real question becomes: What can you do with the trash produced in the solar industry? Our definitive guide to solar waste disposal will show you ways you can save both time and money when removing waste from your jobsites.
1. Connect With a Waste Partner At Least Two Months in Advance
Reach out to a waste provider no less than two months before you need dumpsters delivered. Setting up service this early helps you:
- Make special accommodations based on jobsite limitations, including the physical space available for dumpsters.
- Have more time to find waste provider(s) who can handle high volumes of swap-outs.
- Explore solar waste recycling and diversion options so you can meet project sustainability goals without the regular stresses of a project already underway.
- Establish a waste management plan before phase 2 (the modular installation part of the project), when you’ll dispose of the most waste.
- Find waste disposal options for aging and broken solar panels, which often require special handling at e-waste facilities that take additional time to find.
Plus, setting these resources up ahead of schedule means faster turnarounds on dumpster deliveries, swaps and pickups — which means cleaner jobsites and fewer project delays.
2. Provide a Site Plan to Your Waste Provider
A solar farm installation construction site plan offers a unique and detailed look at any jobsite, which can be especially helpful for contractors during the initial racking and installation phases of a project. Provide waste management partners with up-to-date site plans to ensure all parties understand site restrictions since solar sites are often cramped and don't offer a lot of room for dumpster placement.
3. Find Alternative Disposal Options for Module Pallets
Wooden pallets are a majority of the waste produced by racking and installing solar panels. Due to the large size of these pallets, they often fill up dumpsters quickly. 30 yard and 40 yard dumpsters are typically used to tackle the large number of pallets produced by each project. But given the space limitations on your jobsites, you may need to use alternative methods of disposal during phase 2, the modular installation phase.
“Solar panels are shipped on large wooden pallets that make up about 70% of the total waste during installation. There’s also a 1% breakage rate of solar panels on large shipments, so having a creative and dedicated waste management plan in place is crucial.”
Some national waste management providers offer disposal services catered to the industry’s often challenging project demands. A waste company with a nationwide network of haulers can provide creative waste removal options outside of traditional dumpster empty-and-returns - such as flatbed truck hauling, for example. Check with your potential provider to see what options are available before starting service. It could mean fewer delays and fewer costs later on.
Want to recycle pallets instead of sending them to a landfill? Depending on the location of your project, you may be able to recycle solar panel pallets. Module pallets can be ground up for mulch or to fuel biomass energy facilities. Solar panel pallets can also be ground up for animal bedding. As you’re reaching out to waste providers for your projects, ask if this is a service they provide as well or if they can help you find other options for panel recycling near the project.
4. Use More Than One Hauler
Since solar waste disposal often requires a rapid series of empty-and-returns — especially on large commercial solar farms — partnering with one local hauler usually won’t cut it. EPC contractors need to either find more than one waste management provider to swap out dumpsters consistently or work with a waste company that has a national hauling network able to manage jobsites reliably and efficiently.
5. Get Consolidated Waste Diversion Reporting
As the zero waste movement continues to grow, so will companies’ interests in waste diversion and recycling. Between 2017 – 2021, an estimated 9,000 projects were LEED-certified every year, and that number is likely to grow. Because of this push for sustainable practices, solar projects now regularly include specific waste diversion requirements.
Achieving high waste diversion rates can prove challenging on any construction job, but solar projects bring an additional layer of complications.
Solar Panels Network USA Founder Alan Duncan explained how meeting sustainability goals is more difficult in solar projects:
“The biggest challenge in solar waste management is meeting recycling and diversion requirements on large-scale projects. In many cases, the amount of waste generated by a large solar project is too much for a single recycling facility to handle. As a result, solar companies must often work with multiple recycling facilities to ensure that all of the waste is properly recycled or diverted.”
Waste diversion is a highly involved process — one that involves multiple streams of reports submitted to the appropriate project owner(s) or governing bodies by specified dates. That’s why consolidated waste diversion reporting is so important for solar projects.
Work with your waste management provider as early as you can to establish waste diversion requirements for your solar project and to source facilities that can handle the materials being diverted or recycled. An effective waste management plan should track quantity and load types per dumpster, waste types and diversion rates.
Ideally, you’ll want to contact a waste removal company that finds recycling facilities for you and consolidates the reports from each facility into a monthly progress report. This type of reporting allows you to consistently and accurately update the project owner(s) and provide the necessary information for the final diversion report, so you get paid on time.
Krista Corrigan, the manager of our B2B success team, explained what consolidated waste reporting looks like with Dumpsters.com:
“Waste diversion/LEED reports tell our customers how much of the debris they're getting rid of is recyclable. The nice thing about our reporting is that we can house multiple different landfills on one report. If they were to go through each of these landfills themselves, they would have to compile all that information; instead, we do it for them.”
Corrigan concluded by saying, "At the end of a project, we put everything together for our customers so that they have a report that shows exactly what was thrown out and what was recyclable."
6. Look for Flexible & Streamlined Billing
Trying to get someone on the phone to resolve a billing issue can take time you may not have. Having all your bills in one place, handled by one person, saves valuable time and energy. Construction billing is difficult enough – why not make it easier?
Find a waste management partner offering one dedicated point of contact with the ability to provide flexible payment options and consolidated invoicing for all your disposal options and the facilities you work with. Tracking your expenses should be the last thing you need to worry about — especially when someone can do it for you.
Do You Need a Solar Waste Disposal Partner?
Solar waste management involves multiple pieces moving at the same time. There are haulers, dumpsters and material handling options to consider. The challenge of what to do with hazardous materials often exceeds the capabilities of the average service provider. This makes connecting with a flexible national waste partner like Dumpsters.com beneficial for your solar waste management needs.
Request a quote to get pricing for your next solar construction job.
An enterprise sales manager at Dumpsters.com, Kurt works with a team of account executives to provide best-in-class service to make sure your organization's waste needs are met. He and his team continually check to make sure you have adequate support across your sites and work through any challenges that might come up.
Alan is the founder of Solar Panels Network USA, a solar panel installation company based in Denver, that provides solar panel installation across the USA. He has extensive expertise in green energy and renewable energies, and is passionate about helping people switch to sustainable energy sources. Alan is committed to making solar panels more accessible to everyone and hopes to help make the world a more sustainable place for future generations.
Karsten is an editor, researcher and energy specialist for EcoWatch, a long-time leader in environmental news based in New York City. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the solar energy sector of New Orleans studying energy policy, renewable energy technology and environmental education. His work with EcoWatch has been featured by sources including NPR, the World Economic Forum, the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and MarketWatch. He is certified in the environmental, social and governance (ESG) framework through the CFA Institute.
As the B2B success manager at Dumpsters.com, Krista works to ensure the seamless management of your waste disposal account. Her team handles the day-to-day administrative tasks while assisting your account manager with anything you have on your plate to make sure your needs are met.
EPA. Solar Panel Recycling. (2022, January 11). Retrieved from EPA.gov
Positive Energy Solar. Can Solar Panels Be Recycled? (2021, September 14). Retrieved from PositiveEnergySolar.com
SDCHEC. Shining Some Light on Solar Panels. (2018, April). Retrieved from SDCHEC.gov
Unwin, Jack. The World's Longest Running Solar Farm. (2020, July 29). Retrieved from Power-Technology.com
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