Experts warn of looming environmental catastrophe from solar panel waste

A solar panel installed at the slope of Kibiro Hill in the valley of Lake Albert, Kiganja Sub-county in Hoima District. (Image: File)

It has been observed that solar panel waste will become a major issue in the coming decades as old solar panels reach the ends of their lifespans requiring disposal.

The Coordinator for Appropriate Technology Centre at the Ministry of Water and Environment says most solar panels on the Ugandan market are counterfeits yet the government does not have any plan to safely dispose of it despite boasts of environmental consciousness.

Ms Ashabrick Nantege Batambuze warns 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.

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

The experts add that such solar panel waste cannot be stored in landfills without protections against contamination since 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,” Ms Batambuze says.

Uganda does not have a policy requiring solar panel manufacturers to collect and dispose of solar waste at the end of their useful lives.

Ms Batambuze says the waste disposal issues regarding solar panels are enormous adding that a lack of consumer awareness on how to dispose of them is part of the problem.

She says experts are conducting a study aimed at addressing the information and technological gaps.

However, experts say if well utilised, Uganda could generate as much as 67 per cent of its power from indigenous and clean renewable energy sources by 2030.

Such an energy transition, analysts suggests would improve welfare and stimulate the creation of up to two million additional green jobs in the country by 2050, thus, boosting GDP.

This was during a three-day hybrid forum that ended today Thursday, September 29, 2022 in Kampala organised by Uganda Water and Sanitation Network bringing together policy makers in the water and sanitation sector.

The 2022 forum deliberated on “The nexus between WASH and Climate Change: Building WASH-Climate resilient communities in Uganda.”

UWASNET is the national coordinating organisation for Civil Society Organisations including social enterprises, development programmes, the private sector and NGOs in the water and environment sector.

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