TIME BOMB! Experts warn of looming environmental catastrophe from solar waste

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KAMPALA — Solar panel waste will become a major issue in the coming decades as old solar panels reach the ends of their useful lifespans and require disposal.

Ms. Ashabrick Nantege Bamutaze, the Coordinator Appropriate Technology Centre at the Ministry of Water and Environment says most of the solar panels on Ugandan market are counterfeits and that the country has no plan for safely disposing of it, despite its boasts of environmental consciousness.

Ms. Bamutaze who was speaking at 12th Annual CSOs Wash Forum in Kampala issued a warning that the amount of solar panel waste Uganda produces each year is likely to add on a thread of environmental disasters the country is grappling with.

Solar panels are manufactured using hazardous materials, such as sulfuric acid and phosphine gas, which make them difficult to recycle, experts say.

They cannot be stored in landfills without protections against contamination.

They contain toxic metals like lead, which can damage the nervous system, as well as chromium and cadmium, known carcinogens that can leak out of existing e-waste dumps into drinking water supplies.

“Many of these solar products fail shortly after they have been bought and then you find people are just having solar waste in their homes. So, if we don’t regulate solar waste, if we don’t mind the way we copy and promote technologies, we are heading into a disaster and this could be the biggest threat to the environment,” Bumutaze told reporters.

Uganda has no policy requiring solar panel manufacturers to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their useful lives.

She says the waste disposal issues regarding solar panels are enormous.

Most research on photovoltaic panels is focused on recovering solar-grade silicon to make recycling economically viable.

That skews the economic incentives against recycling.

A lack of consumer awareness on how to dispose of them is part of the problem,” Bamutaze said.

She said they’re conducting a study aimed at addressing the information and technological gaps.

Experts, however, urged that if well utilized, Uganda could generate as much as 67% of its power from indigenous and clean renewable energy sources by 2030.

Such an energy transition, analysis suggests, would boost GDP, improve welfare and stimulate the creation of up to 2 million additional green jobs in the country by 2050.

The three-day hybrid forum organized by Uganda Water and Sanitation Network
brought together policy makers in the water and sanitation sector.

The 2022 forum has run from 27th -29th September 2022, at Hotel Africana— focusing on deliberating on “The nexus between WASH and Climate Change: Building WASH – Climate resilient communities in Uganda”.

UWASNET is the national coordinating organization for Civil Society Organizations including social enterprises, development programs, the private sector, and NGOs in the Water and Environment sector.


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