Is solar getting dirtier?

solar power
CC BY 2.0 Flickr

In 2009, Mat McDermott wrote about the need for greater oversight in the manufacturing of solar panels, which pose many of the same problems as other types of electronics. A report from Silicon Valley Toxics called for manufactures to take more responsibility for their entire production chain and end-of-life recycling.

The 2013 report from Silicon Valley Toxics found that the industry has yet to turn around its manufacturing practices. The "Solar Scorecard" complied data on 40 companies, in part based on publicly available information. However, just 10 companies filled out Silicon Valley Toxics' voluntary survey. These companies represent 34.6 percent of the market share, a drop from 51.1 percent in 2012. The drop is due "largely to the bankruptcy of several former participants and declining market shares of other major producers."

There are no companies in the U.S. that require customers to participate in recycling programs after manufacturer Solar First dropped it mandatory policy, according to the 2013 findings.

Josh Harkinson writes for Mother Jones that some companies are scaling back on their environmental commitments due to increased competition, particularly from companies operating in countries with more lax environmental protection laws:

"Huge Chinese subsidies for solar companies have driven down global [photovoltaic] prices (and helped boost sales) but have forced many companies to cut costs. Some major European- and American-based manufacturers (and a few Chinese ones) that abide by strict environmental standards have lost market share or gone out of business and stopped responding to the surveys."

On a more positive note, 20 companies have "some level of engagement with environmental and social responsibility guidance" according to the Solar Scorecard and 20 companies have information about recycling their products on their websites.

Hopefully, continued consumer and regulatory pressure can turn the more negative practices around.

Tags: E-Waste | Solar Energy | Solar Power

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