In 2010, the solar photovoltaic (PV) industry produced twice as many modules as it did in 2009. This growth is an encouraging step toward addressing the challenge of climate change through renewable energy. The generation of electricity from solar PV produces no greenhouse gas emissions while the modules are in use, and provides a sustainable alternative to non-renewable fossil fuels. However, there are potential negative environmental and health impacts from PV modules throughout their life cycles, ranging from raw materials extraction and procurement impacts, toxic and hazardous materials use in manufacturing, and the disposal and recycling of modules at the end of their useful lives.
The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) believes that we still have time to ensure that the PV sector is safe for the environment, workers, and communities. We need to take action now to reduce the use of toxic chemicals in PV, develop responsible recycling systems, and protect workers throughout the global PV supply chain.
Many solar PV companies want to produce truly clean and green energy systems and are taking steps to implement more sustainable practices. SVTC is committed to helping these companies achieve that goal. At the same time, we need to create and enforce regulatory policies that ensure the safety and improved environmental performance of the entire sector.
SVTC envisions a safe and sustainable solar PV industry that:
- Takes responsibility for the environmental and health impacts of its products throughout their lifecycles, including adherence to a mandatory policy for responsible recycling.
- Implements and monitors equitable environmental and labor standards throughout product supply chains.
- Pursues innovative approaches to reducing toxic chemicals in PV module manufacturing.
For over three decades, SVTC has been a leader in encouraging electronics manufacturers to take lifecycle responsibility for their products. This includes protecting workers from toxic exposure and preventing hazardous e-waste dumping in developing countries like India, Ghana, and China that lack adequate systems to protect worker health and safety. SVTC also seeks to stop the practice of sending e-waste to U.S. prisons for dismantling, which results in toxic exposure to inmates.
We now have a limited window of opportunity to ensure that solar PV does not follow the electronics industry’s toxic and unsustainable path. The solar PV industry’s rapid growth makes it critical to focus industry innovation on reducing toxic materials use and on developing products that are easier and safer to recycle. At the same time, the solar industry needs to build domestic recycling infrastructures that rely on the “proximity principle;” disposing of and recycling waste near where it is generated and/or reused will reduce the solar PV industry’s carbon footprint, create jobs, and support local economies.