Can we recycle old batteries, wind turbines, and solar panels to keep valuable materials out of the trash? Absolutely!
But if the materials that enable those technologies aren’t reclaimed, the future’s clean energy will be anything but, with views marred by graveyards of old turbine blades, decrepit solar panels, and corroding batteries. Many initiatives are under way to prepare for the arrival of this new type of waste. But in most cases, the solutions are works in progress at best.
The potential quantities of waste are enormous. By 2025, waste batteries removed from electric vehicles will total 95 gigawatt hours worth, according to an estimate by Bloomberg New Energy Finance. That pile will weigh roughly 600,000 metric tons.
A similar amount of old solar panels will have accumulated by then, according to projections by the International Renewable Energy Agency. IRENA anticipates solar panel waste could reach 78 million metric tons by 2050. And Europe could see 300,000 metric tons per year of decommissioned wind turbine blades in the next two decades, says the trade association WindEurope.