My colleagues Wayne Rosenbaum and Ryan Waterman authored, "DTSC Rulemaking Proposes to Classify All Discarded Solar Panels As Hazardous Waste" today on our California Environmental Law blog.
On June 27, California’s Department of Toxic Substance Control (“DTSC”) announced a 15 day comment period on new regulations concerning the disposal of photovoltaic (PV) modules—broadly defined as “any photovoltaic device that converts photons from the sun into electricity for general use . . . .”
The proposed rulemaking would treat discarded PV modules as Universal Waste, placing them in the same category as electronic devices, batteries, and aerosol cans. As such, PV modules would be subject to special handling and treatment rules, and would be barred from disposal in sanitary landfills. This could have significant impacts on decommissioning costs for PV arrays as well as increasing the costs of routine maintenance for operating systems.
While DTSC considered four options in developing the proposed rule, it considered and rejected the option of testing the modules for hazardous characteristics in favor of its preferred approach of declaring all non-functioning modules to be hazardous. DTSC’s rationale for this approach is based on the assumption that all damaged PV modules contain toxic heavy metals that have the potential to leach into the environment in toxic amounts. Accordingly, DTSC assumes that by defining all damaged modules to be hazardous, the rule would avoid ambiguity for end users and create a robust recycling industry. DTSC did not appear to consider the impacts the rule could have on attempts by PV manufacturers to reduce the use of metals in their products, however, and may unintentionally stifle innovation of green technologies.
Comments on the new rule will be accepted until 5 PM on Thursday, July 11, 2013. Details regarding DTSC’s rulemaking are available at: Proposed Regulations: Proposed Standards for the Management of Hazardous Waste Solar Modules