Managing Hazardous Waste

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Photovoltaic Modules (PV modules) – Universal Waste Management Regulations

Notify DTSC of PV Modules Handling, Authorized Treatment, and Disposal Activities

Starting January 1, 2021, businesses that intend to manage waste PV modules as universal waste (UW) shall notify DTSC of the universal waste management activities. You can use DTSC’s notification forms provided below to file a Notice of Intent (NOI) to handle, treat, or dispose of PV modules. Notification must be submitted for each universal waste handling facility.

Notification Form to handle UW PV modules

Notification form to treat UW PV modules 

Notification form for UW PV modules disposal

Submit the written notification to:

Department of Toxic Substances Control

Universal Waste Notification and Reporting Staff

P.O. Box 806

Sacramento, CA 95812-0806

ATTN: Universal Waste Handling Activities

In addition to the onetime notification, universal waste handlers that accepts more than 100 kilograms (or 200 pounds) of PV modules from any offsite source or that generates 5,000 kilograms (or 10,000 pounds) or more of PV modules in a calendar year shall submit a completed written annual report by February 1 of the following year.

In addition to the onetime notification, UW handlers that conduct disassembling and processing treatment activities of PV modules in a calendar year shall submit a completed written annual report by February 1 of the following year.

December 17, 2020, Public Webinar

DTSC held a public webinar on December 17, 2020, to present information on the recently approved regulation to manage waste photovoltaic modules (PV modules), commonly known as solar panels, as universal waste under California’s Universal Waste Program. The webinar is intended to familiarize people with the requirements of the new regulation for managing PV modules as universal waste under California’s Universal Waste Program.

Photovoltaic Modules - Universal Waste Management Regulations Approval

DTSC’s new PV modules regulation, allowing them to be managed under California’s universal waste program, was recently approved by Office of Administrative Law (OAL) and will be effective starting January 1, 2021. 

DTSC Reference Number: R-2017-04
OAL Reference Number: Z-2019-0409-04

Please be sure to check the website for more information as DTSC continues to update this website. 

Please visit the following Final Regulations webpage for the final regulation rulemaking information.

 

The Law:

On October 1, 2015, SB 489 (Monning, Chapter 419) was enacted to add section 25259 to Health and Safety Code, Division 20, Chapter 6.5, Article 17, which authorizes the Department to adopt regulations to designate end-of-life photovoltaic modules that are identified as hazardous waste as a universal waste and subject those modules to universal waste management.

Frequently Asked Questions:

DTSC has accumulated questions that are being asked regarding universal waste management of photovoltaic modules. Please take a look at the questions and answers that we have provided. We will update this list as more questions become available.

If you have any further questions, please email us at PVModules@dtsc.ca.gov

What does DTSC consider to be a photovoltaic (PV) module?

PV module is defined as a device consisting of, or containing, one or more electrically connected photovoltaic cells that are designed to convert solar radiation into electrical energy. PV modules include integrated components that cannot be separated without breaking the photovoltaic module glass. Examples of integrated components include, but are not limited to, protective glass, conductive metal contact, metal framing the photovoltaic cells, housing or pocket holding the photovoltaic cells/modules, and top and back layer. Photovoltaic modules are composed of, but are not limited to, monocrystalline silicon, polycrystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, cadmium telluride, copper indium gallium selenide, and gallium indium phosphide/gallium arsenide/gallium, and perovskite. PV modules are also commonly referred to as photovoltaic panels or solar panels. Photovoltaic cells that are not electrically connected are managed as PV modules. This excludes ancillary components that are not integrated to the PV module.

The definition PV module is defined in section 66273.9, of article 1 chapter 23 division 4.5 title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

What does DTSC consider to be a PV system?

PV system is defined as a set of components consisting of one or more PV modules and includes any ancillary components that can be manually separated without breaking the photovoltaic module glass such as, but not limited to, metal frames used to support the PV module, connectors, junction boxes, batteries, inverters, wires, and cables that are connected to the PV module. PV systems are also commonly referred to as solar systems.

The definition of a PV system is defined in section 66273.9, of article 1 chapter 23 division 4.5 title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

Can the entire PV system be managed as universal waste?

Ancillary components that can be manually separated from a PV module without breaking the PV module glass are a part of the PV system, but not a part of the PV module. Such components are not considered to be a universal waste PV module and must be managed under respective laws and regulations applicable to them. Examples of ancillary components include, but are not limited to, a junction box, battery, inverter, and cable.

What PV modules can be managed as a universal waste?

Universal waste regulations apply to PV modules that exhibit the hazardous waste characteristic of toxicity. A hazardous waste determination can be done by either conducting analytical testing or using the generator’s knowledge of the materials used in the PV module. However, generators may elect to manage PV modules as universal waste without performing a hazardous waste determination. When a universal waste handler decides to discard the PV module waste, the handler is required to perform a hazardous waste determination on the waste and manage the waste based on that determination.

Are PV modules integrated into electronic devices subject to universal waste regulations?

If an electronic device has PV cells or modules integrated into the device, the device is considered an electronic device and must be managed as such. However, when the PV cells or modules integrated to an electronic device are removed from the device during disassembly activities, then the PV cells or modules would be considered treatment residuals of the electronic device and could be managed as universal waste PV modules.

If a device has integrated PV cells or modules and is not an electronic device, such as a solar backpack, then such device is considered a PV module and can be managed as universal waste PV module.

Is a PV module an electronic device?

A PV module is not considered to be an electronic device under universal waste regulations; they are considered distinct and different waste streams. If a device contains PV cells or modules and functions as an electronic device, then the device is considered an electronic device and can be managed as an electronic device under universal waste management standards.

What hazardous waste thresholds determine if a PV module is a hazardous waste?

A PV module waste is determined to be hazardous under universal waste regulations if the waste exhibits either the federal or California hazardous waste characteristic of toxicity. U.S. EPA requires the use of the Toxicity Characteristic Leaching Procedure (TCLP) to determine if a waste exhibits the characteristic of toxicity under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA). In California, the hazardous waste characteristic for toxicity is determined by the Waste Extraction Test (WET). Based on analytical testing results, if a PV module contains substances above either Total Threshold Limit Concentration (TTLC) or Soluble Threshold Limit Concentration (STLC) in California, or if it exceeds hazardous constituents in concentrations that exceed federal TCLP thresholds, then the PV module is determined to be hazardous.

The test requirements and threshold concentrations for both the federal and California hazardous waste characteristic of toxicity are defined in section 66261.24, of article 3, chapter 11, division 4.5 title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

Can all PV module waste be managed as universal waste?

A waste PV module can be managed as universal waste without first determining if it is hazardous. Both RCRA and non-RCRA hazardous waste PV modules can be managed as universal waste under DTSC’s universal waste regulations.

When a universal waste handler decides to discard the PV module waste, the handler is required to perform a hazardous waste determination on the waste and manage the waste based on that determination.

PV modules can only be managed as universal waste in California. PV modules may need to undergo a new waste determination once the waste leaves California and must comply with respective local and state regulations.

What treatment activities for PV modules are authorized under universal waste regulations?

The authorized treatment allowed for PV modules under universal waste regulations are similar to treatment activities for the existing universal wastes, such as electronic devices and cathode ray tubes (CRTs).

DTSC considers authorized treatment activities to mean activities as specified in article 7 of chapter 23 title 4.5 in California Code of Regulations, which consist of:

  • removing discrete assemblies during normal use and operation of PV modules as specified in section 66273.71,
  • dismantling of PV modules without intentionally breaking the PV module glass as specified in section 66273.72, and
  • processing PV modules by intentionally breaking the PV module glass as specified in section 66273.73.

PV modules that are accidentally broken during the course of normal handling activities are considered to be unintentional breakage and thus are not considered to be a treatment activity under article 7, provided handlers comply with the containment requirements for PV modules in section 66273.33.6.

What treatment activities for PV modules are not authorized under universal waste regulations?

Use of chemicals, including water, or heat to treat hazardous waste PV modules are not authorized under universal waste regulations because these activities alter the chemical composition of the materials and pose a higher risk to human health and the environment. To conduct these treatment activities in California would require authorization from DTSC, such as the authorization provided through a hazardous waste treatment permit.

What are treatment residuals?

Treatment residuals are remaining parts of PV modules waste after treatment activities are conducted on the PV modules. Treatment residuals are no longer considered a PV module as they do not meet the regulatory definition of a PV module.

How are PV module treatment residuals managed?

PV module treatment residuals are managed based on the waste classification of the residuals. For example, if the residuals are metal frames, then they can be managed as scrap metal. If the treatment residuals are disposed of after treatment activities, a hazardous waste determination must be made to determine the proper management standards for the residuals.

Universal waste management requirements for PV module treatment residuals are specified in section 66273.75(c) of chapter 23, division 4.5, title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

How are PV module treatment residuals contained?

PV module treatment residuals must be contained in a manner that prevents a release to the environment. If they are released to the environment, they must be cleaned up immediately. Requirements for containment of PV module residuals are specified in in section 66273.75 of chapter 23, division 4.5, title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

What are the containment requirements for PV modules?

Universal waste handlers are required to contain PV modules in a manner that prevents breakage and release of any constituent of a PV module to the environment. Universal waste requirements are not prescriptive in the manner in which PV modules are contained, but examples of containment include placing PV modules in a bin or placing them on a pallet and shrink wrapping that pallet. Containment requirements are meant to protect the environment and human health by preventing harmful PV module constituents from potentially leaching into soil or water.

Universal waste containment requirements for PV modules are specified in section 66273.33.6 of chapter 23, division 4.5, title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

What are the requirements for PV modules that are unintentionally broken?

Universal waste handlers are required to immediately clean up any PV module or PV module constituent(s) if the module is accidently or unintentionally broken, to prevent release of potentially hazardous constituents to the environment.

Intentional breakage of a PV module is considered a treatment activity, as specified in article 7 of chapter 23 in the California Code of Regulations. Therefore, handlers must comply with treatment requirements if PV modules are intentionally broken.

Universal waste management requirements for PV modules that are unintentionally broken are specified in section 66273.33.6 of chapter 23, division 4.5, title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

What is the difference between notification and annual reporting for universal waste PV modules and how often are each required?

Notification and annual reporting are two different reporting requirements under universal waste regulations.

The notification is a one-time event for handlers of PV modules that intend to accept or anticipate accepting PV module waste from generators or other universal waste handlers. The notification must be submitted to DTSC in writing 30 days prior to accepting universal waste PV modules. This notification only occurs one time.

An annual report is required to be submitted every year to DTSC for universal waste handlers that accept more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) or generate more than 5,000 kilograms (11,000 pounds) of universal waste PV modules in a calendar year. An annual report must be submitted to DTSC in writing by February 1 of the following year for the universal waste PV modules handled in the prior calendar year.

Does the 30-day notification requirement to accept PV modules apply to facilities that inadvertently accept PV modules? Is there an allowance for notification after acceptance?

The notification requirement applies to any universal waste handling facilities that will collect and handle universal waste PV modules. DTSC assumes that if a handler accepts PV module waste as universal waste once, it is likely that the handler will accept more of such waste in the future. However, the handler must notify DTSC only one-time 30 days prior to the first acceptance.

If a solid waste facility does not intend to collect universal waste PV modules, it is the responsibility of the facility to inspect and reject the load and ensure that incoming loads do not contain wastes that the facility is not authorized to accept, including hazardous wastes, pursuant to title 27, California Code of Regulations, section 20870(b).

Are universal waste handlers/recyclers required to report PV modules by type in the notification and annual report?

Universal waste handlers are only required to report the types of PV modules handled in the notification and annual reports if that information is known. If the universal waste handler does not know what types of PV modules they handled in the prior year, they do not need to report that information.

Who is subject to the notification and annual reporting requirements? Are there exemptions?

The notification requirement applies to any handling facilities, including warehouses and distribution centers, that will collect and handle universal waste PV modules. These requirements do not apply to homeowners unless they are in the business of accepting PV modules and universal waste.

If the universal waste handler accepts more than 100 kilograms (or 220 pounds) of PV modules waste in a calendar year, then the handler is required to submit an annual report by February 1 of the following year.

If the universal waste handler generates more than 5,000 kilograms (or 11,000 pounds) of PV modules waste in a calendar year, then the handler is required to submit an annual report by February 1 of the following year.

The annual report is not required for households and businesses that generate small quantities, no more than 100 kilograms (or 220 pounds), of PV modules in a calendar month as described in 40 Code of Federal Regulations section 261.5.

Can notification and/or annual reports be done electronically?

At this time, notification and annual reporting can be done in writing only. Here is the link to the form (The link coming soon). The notification and annual report forms are submitted at

Department of Toxic Substances Control

Universal Waste Notification and Reporting Staff

P.O. BOX 806

Sacramento, CA 95812-0806

Attention: Universal Waste Handling Activities

Notification and annual reporting requirements for universal waste PV modules are specified in section 66273.32 of chapter 23, division 4.5, title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

Can a universal waste handler use one form to complete notification and annual reports for different handling facilities managed by the handler?

Universal waste handlers are required to complete notification and annual reporting for each handling facility separately, even if these facilities are owned/managed/operated by one entity. This is because the quantity and types of universal waste each facility handles, where the waste is transported, and management practices could be different among the facilities, and therefore, they are required to report separately.

Are the forms for notifications and annual reporting different, and if so, how are they different?

Notification and annual reporting forms will be made available to download from DTSC’s webpage for the convenience of the universal waste handlers. Handlers can use the forms from DTSC’s webpage or could use handler’s own forms that contain the required information and submit the forms in writing.

Is commingling of PV modules with other universal wastes allowed?

PV modules are a separate waste category under the universal waste standards and are prohibited from being commingled with other universal wastes, such as electronic devices, due to the need to comply with the specific requirements associated with each waste stream. Universal waste PV modules must be placed at a designated area and labelled clearly with the phrase “Universal Waste-PV module(s)”.

What are transportation requirements for universal waste PV modules?

Transportation requirements for universal waste PV modules are the same as those of other universal wastes (see Universal Waste Fact Sheet). Additionally, universal waste transporters that transport more than 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of PV module waste at one time must contain the waste in order to prevent potential breakage and spillage to the environment.

Universal waste management requirements for transporting universal waste PV modules are specified in article 5 of chapter 23, division 4.5, title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

How are universal waste PV modules disposed of?

Once a universal waste handler decides to discard universal waste PV modules, the wastes become subject to all hazardous waste regulations. The handler is required to perform a hazardous waste determination on the waste and manage the waste based on that determination. If the waste is hazardous, it must be disposed of as hazardous waste using full hazardous waste standards.

Requirements for universal waste PV modules disposal are specified in section 66273.72 of chapter 23, division 4.5, title 22 of California Code of Regulations.

Can a household generator of PV module waste manage the waste as household hazardous waste?

PV module waste may be managed as household hazardous waste. If the generator relinquishes the PV module waste as household hazardous waste to a household hazardous waste facility, then the generator is exempt from the chapter 23 requirements but must still comply with household hazardous waste requirements found in article 10.8, starting with section 25218, of the Health and Safety Code. Household hazardous waste generators are encouraged to contact their local household hazardous waste facility to check to make sure the facility accepts hazardous waste PV modules prior to taking the waste to the facility.