How clean is your solar? Report rates leaders on toxics, recycling policies

Last year, I reported that the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) had taken a proactive stance in assessing the materials founds in various solar panels -- as well as the sustainability policies of the companies that make them. The idea is that not all solar technology is created equal when it comes to environmental impact, especially the implications associated with disposing of same.

Last year, I reported that the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) had taken a proactive stance in assessing the materials founds in various solar panels -- as well as the sustainability policies of the companies that make them. The idea is that not all solar technology is created equal when it comes to environmental impact, especially the implications associated with disposing of same.

Well, the group has just come out with its latest scorecard rankings and Germany's SolarWorld has come out on top, followed by Trina Solar from China. Two U.S.-based companies -- Abound and First Solar -- and Norway's REC all tied for third place.

The factors used to consider the manufacturers and their technologies included extended producer responsibility policies (for recycling), supply chain policies and monitoring procedures, green jobs creation, materials usage and toxics exposure, and the company's inclination to disclose (or hide) information about any or all of these things.

The 15 companies considered in the report represent about 46.6 percent of the solar technology industry's market share. Of them, only two are willing to state that their products contain no cadmium or lead. Five of the bunch HAVe taken the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedures Concentration test and passed it.

The report's authors write:

"We now have a limited window of opportunity to ensure that solar [photovoltaic] 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 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."

One other tidbit for you to chew over:

  • Of the top 10 solar manufacturers, four still aren't providing information to SVTC for this report card. They are Canadian Solar, Hanwa SolarOne, Sharp and Suntech. (SVTC notes that the two latter companies are both trying to start a "constructive dialogue" about the issues considered in the scorecard.

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