(NaturalNews) Scientists are calling upon solar panel manufacturers to set up a recycling infrastructure for their products now, before the supposedly green industry becomes the next major source of toxic e-waste.
Already electronics from televisions to cell phones and computers have become notorious for producing large quantities of toxic waste, including metals such as cadmium, selenium and silicon tetrachloride, and the greenhouse gas sulfur hexafluoride.
"Electronic waste is emerging as one of the central challenges of our era," writes Mark Schapiro in the book Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power.
Researcher Dustin Mulvaney of the University of California-Berkeley recently conducted a analysis of all solar panels on the market, and found major toxics concerns with every variety.
The oldest and most prevalent type of panel, crystalline photovoltaic, is made with lead. Newer thin film panels, holding 21 percent of the market share, contain cadmium, which has been linked to lung and kidney damage and can be fatal in large quantities.
"It's gene toxic and a mutagen, so it has the ability to affect DNA, meaning it could affect reproduction and future generations' DNA," Mulvaney said.
Amorphous silicon panels, holding 16 percent of the market share, and copper indium gallium selenide (CIGS) panels, holding 6 percent, are both made with indium tin oxide, another hazardous substance. CIGS panels also contain cadmium.
Solar panels are designed to last 20 years, so manufacturers are giving little thought to the end of their product's life cycle, yet transport breakage and factory scrap are already producing waste. With U.S. solar demand projected to increase 50 percent per year for the next two years, photovoltaic waste is a potential disaster in the making.
"If you don't look at the recycling when you're designing the product, then it's really, really difficult to recycle," said Sheila Davis, executive director of the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition. "But if you know you're going to have to pay for the recycling at the end of life, you might make the necessary design changes in your product now to reduce that cost."