Recyclability

Grade A products are the easiest to recycle. 

We analysed each device, awarding a recyclability score between zero and twenty five. 

Why design for recyclability?

The diverse range of pico-solar products and designs, their widespread distribution and the lack of a formal recycling infrastructure create real challenges for organised waste recovery and recycling in the off grid solar industry. Designing for sustainability encourages designers and manufacturers to consider the ultimate destiny of products during the design phase. This means selecting materials (glass, metals, plastics and other materials) that can be easily recovered through manual or mechanical dismantling and profitably sold for use in new products of equal or better value, or disposed of with minimal environmental impact. We aim to encourage manufacturers to take leadership in developing innovative designs that reduce the number of plastics in a product, eliminate glues and adhesives that contaminate plastics, and ensure that the packaging materials are reusable, recyclable and/or biodegradable.

The availability and capability of recycling and waste-management infrastructures vary from region to region. In many areas, even the most well-designed solar product could not be recycled or reused due to the lack of infrastructure. However, designing solar products that can be recycled or disposed of with minimal safety and environmental risks provides a platform from which to encourage localised waste-management groups to provide adequate recycling and disposal infrastructure. 

Battery

Batteries containing toxic materials require extensive environmental control to recycle without causing health hazards for workers and communities near recycling plants. Most points are deducted for lead acid batteries and nickel cadmium batteries due to toxicity of materials and the difficulty of safely recycling them. NiMH is also deducted points for containing rare earth metals. Lithium Ion batteries lose some points due to the use of cobalt, but generally has fewer health and environmental impacts than nickel and lead-based batteries.  LiFePO4 retains full points due to its long lifetime, stability of components, and low health and environmental impacts. 

Plastics

Points are deducted if plastics are not labelled and if more than three identifiable types of plastic are used. Labelling plastics by type enables recyclers to safely and effectively sort and process plastic components. Limiting the types of plastics reduces the need for recyclers to manually dismantle and sort plastic materials based on the composition. Plastic recycling value is lowered when different types of plastics are mixed together or contaminated with glue, adhesive, coatings or foreign materials. 

Contaminates

Points are deducted if internal component parts are contaminated with glues or adhesives. The use of glue to connect wires to the housing (rather than a fastener) contaminates plastics. Metals, screws and other materials embedded in plastics also contaminate recycled feedstock.

Separation

Points are deducted if constituent materials cannot be easily separated and if metal frames cannot be removed from solar modules. Although the use of adhesive and non-reversible screws may add to the durability and longevity of solar products, they can also make it difficult to disassemble products and separate components, reducing the recycling value of plastics. Difficulty separating valuable aluminium frames from solar modules increases the labor cost of recycling and reduces the potential recycling value of the metal.

Packaging

Points are deducted if the solar product does not use packaging materials that are reusable, recyclable, or biodegradable.

Solar Module

More than six different types of solar photovoltaic modules are commonly used to power off grid solar lighting devices. These modules must be separated into different material streams in order to be safely recycled. Some module types, such as Cadmium Telluride (CdTe) and Copper Indium Gallium Selenide (CIGS), are characterised as hazardous waste due to the use of heavy metals such as copper and indium and can be harmful to human health and the environment if handled improperly.