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EPA Releases Briefing Paper on Renewable Energy Waste Management

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WASHINGTON (January 6, 2020) — Today, EPA posted a briefing paper outlining difficulties the U.S. will face recycling and safely disposing of the materials used for green energy technologies. Renewable Energy Waste Streams: Preparing for the Future examines the waste produced once solar panels, lithium-ion batteries and windmills reach the end of their useful life. This briefing paper identifies key challenges that America faces in the near future as the growing use of renewable energy technologies creates a new generation of materials that need to be recycled or properly disposed of in order to protect human health and the environment.

“Recycling is a critical piece of our future for not only consumer commodities like paper and plastic, but also the ever-expanding renewable energy sector,” said EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler. “Without a strategy for their end-of-life management, so-called green technologies like solar panels, electric vehicle batteries, and windmills will ultimately place the same unintended burdens on our planet and economy as traditional commodities.”

“It is vital that we adequately plan, prepare, and design renewable energy systems for reuse, recycling, and proper end-of-life material management in the present, or we risk creating new environmental and economic burdens in the future,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Land and Emergency Management Peter Wright. “Appropriate and effective preparations need to occur along with the expanded use of renewable energy so that recycling systems and appropriate waste management infrastructures are in place when they are needed.”

Inadequate solid waste management systems present serious risks to human health, the environment, and the economy and loss of economic opportunity associated with the recovery of valuable materials. Increasing U.S. investment in renewable energy systems will create new kinds and new volumes of waste. Not only are there byproducts and energy demands associated with the production of so-called green technologies, but these systems also produce materials requiring careful end-of-life management to avoid creating unexpected burdens on individuals and communities and the risk of causing new Superfund sites and wasting of scarce and valuable resources.

To read the briefing paper, visit