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How CSR can Contribute to Solar Waste Management?

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Solar Waste Management
 
By 2030, the cumulative waste from India’s solar capacity is estimated to reach 340 kilotonnes (kt), escalating to a staggering 19,000 kt by 2050, according to a recent report titled ‘Enabling a Circular Economy in India’s Solar Industry – Assessing the Solar Waste Quantum’, conducted by the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy (MNRE), in collaboration with experts from the Council on Energy, Environment, and Water (CEEW). This comprehensive study not only outlines the gravity of the issue but also proposes strategic measures to effectively manage solar waste, crucial for India’s sustainable energy transition.
India has launched several initiatives to promote solar energy adoption, including the National Solar Mission, Solar Park Scheme, Rooftop Solar Scheme, and PM-KUSUM scheme, reflecting its commitment to renewable energy expansion. As per the study, alarmingly, 77% of the solar waste is anticipated to stem from new capacities, underscoring the urgent need for proactive management strategies.
Geographically, the burden of solar waste is predicted to be concentrated in five states, namely Rajasthan, Gujarat, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh. By 2030, these states are expected to contribute approximately 67% of the projected waste, with Rajasthan leading the tally at 24%, followed by Gujarat and Karnataka at 16% and 12%, respectively.
Additionally, the report emphasizes the critical mineral content present in discarded solar modules, highlighting the significance of reclaiming materials such as silicon, copper, tellurium, and cadmium for India’s economic prosperity and national security.

What is Solar Waste?

Solar waste encompasses discarded materials generated during the manufacturing, installation, and end-of-life stages of solar modules. Given the recyclable nature of solar panel components, effective waste management is imperative to reclaim valuable resources and mitigate environmental hazards posed by toxic materials like lead and cadmium.
India faces various challenges in solar waste recycling, including the lack of a comprehensive policy framework, complex material compositions, involvement of informal recyclers, and limited market demand for recycled materials. However, opportunities exist to overcome these obstacles through innovative solutions and strategic initiatives.

Recommendations

In order to address the escalating solar waste crisis, the report advocates for multifaceted interventions:
1. Establishment of a comprehensive database by MNRE to track installed solar capacity, facilitating accurate waste management.
2. Formulation of guidelines by the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for the collection, storage, and processing of solar waste, ensuring adherence to Electronic Waste Management Rules 2022.
3. Encouragement of solar cell and module producers to develop waste collection and storage centers, aligning with their responsibilities outlined in existing regulations.

The Role of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Solar Waste Management

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) can play a major role in contributing to the sustainable development goals, including effective solar waste management. Following are the ways in which Corporates can play a significant role in managing solar waste through CSR.

1. Investment in Research and Development (R&D)

CSR-driven investments in R&D can encourage innovation in solar technology, leading to the development of more sustainable and recyclable materials. By supporting research efforts aimed at improving the lifecycle of solar panels and reducing waste generation, companies can contribute to long-term solutions for solar waste management.

2. Implementation of Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Programs

Companies can demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship by voluntarily adopting EPR programs for solar products. By taking responsibility for the end-of-life management of their products, including collection, recycling, and disposal, companies can minimize the environmental impact of their operations and contribute to circular economy principles.

3. Collaboration and Partnerships

CSR initiatives can facilitate collaboration and partnerships between companies, government agencies, NGOs, and local communities to develop comprehensive solar waste management solutions. By pooling resources and expertise, we can leverage collective knowledge and experience to address challenges such as infrastructure development, technology adoption, and public awareness.

4. Community Engagement and Education

Companies can engage with local communities through CSR programs to raise awareness about the importance of solar waste management and encourage sustainable practices. By organizing workshops, training sessions, and awareness campaigns, companies can empower communities to actively participate in waste reduction and recycling efforts, fostering a culture of environmental responsibility.

5. Support for Informal Sector Integration

CSR initiatives can support the integration of informal recyclers into formal waste management systems, providing training, resources, and infrastructure to improve safety standards and environmental practices. By investing in capacity building and livelihood enhancement programs, companies can create opportunities for informal workers to transition to sustainable employment in the solar waste management sector.

6. Advocacy for Policy Reform

Companies can use their influence and advocacy platforms to support policy reforms that promote sustainable practices and regulations for solar waste management. By actively engaging with policymakers, industry associations, and regulatory bodies, companies can advocate for the development of clear guidelines, incentives, and enforcement mechanisms to ensure responsible waste management practices across the solar industry.