In response to electric power industry requests, the EPA is looking to classify solar panels as universal waste. The agency is also working to create a category of universal waste specifically for lithium-ion batteries.
The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act allows the EPA to regulate management of hazardous waste. Within those regulations, the EPA also developed the classification of “universal waste,” which allows for an alternative set of regulations for certain hazardous wastes. The alternative regulations reduce the regulatory burden by allowing for longer storage of the materials and reduced recordkeeping.
“EPA supports the increased use of solar power and electric vehicles as integral emissions-free sources of energy and transportation in the fight against climate change,” a press release noted. “Like all energy production technologies, when solar panels and electric vehicle and other lithium batteries reach the end of their useful lives, their associated wastes must be responsibly recycled and managed.”
Some solar panels units are currently classified as hazardous waste due to the metals they contain, and reclassifying all panels as universal waste “would provide a clear, practical system for handling discarded solar panels,” the EPA noted.
“The streamlined universal waste regulations are expected to promote the collection and recycling of solar panels and encourage the development of municipal and commercial programs to reduce the quantity of these wastes going to municipal solid waste landfills,” the press release added.
A coalition of industry associations affiliated with the electric power industry petitioned the EPA in 2021 to add photovoltaic solar panels to the universal waste management program.
The EPA is also working to create a universal waste category specifically for lithium-ion batteries, separate from the existing general battery category. The intent is to improve safety standards and reduce fires, “while continuing to promote battery recycling,” the press release noted.
The agency is using current industry best practices to create the standards, which should harmonize battery management across the industry.