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Solar Panel Makers Fail to Report Waste

Solar panel makers are generating millions of pounds of polluted sludge and contaminated water, hazardous waste that is not always reported, an investigation from Associated Press found.

Solar hazardous waste has increased over the past five years alongside the industry’s growth. As of the close of 2012, there was more than 6.4 GW of solar electric capacity installed in the US alone.

The industry’s growth, and the amount of waste that has been generated as a result, is particularly apparent in California, where regulations require industrial plants including solar panel makers to report how much hazardous waste they produce and where they send it, reported the Associated Press.

The wire service compiled a list of 41 solar makers in California, including the top companies based on market data, as well as startups. Of those, only 17 reported waste, according to data supplied by the California Department of Toxic Substances Control in response to an AP records request.

State records show the 17 companies, which had 44 factories in the state, produced 46.5 million pounds of sludge and contaminated water from 2007 through the first half of 2011, the AP reported.  The vast majority of the waste stayed within the state. However, more than 1.4 million pounds were transported to nine other states as far flung as Minnesota, Rhode Island and Arkansas.

The mounting hazardous waste has raised concerns within the industry, which worries the problem could undermine its green image, reported the AP.

The amount of fossil fuels used to transport the waste also hasn’t been calculated in lifecycle analysis of solar panels, which could mean the carbon footprint of some solar panels is larger than previously thought.

Lifecycle analysis, or LCA, is a technique used to assess environmental impacts of a product. LCA is generally performed one product at a time. However, last year PepsiCo and researchers at Columbia University developed software that rapidly calculates the carbon footprints of thousands of products simultaneously.

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