One California recycling firm approaches solar developers to clean up projects.
Solar is the heart of the “green” movement. Using clean, renewable energy is one of the best ways to support a clean environment.
But how green is this industry, really?
One would hope an environmentally conscious industry does its part to recycle as much as possible. Millions of cardboard boxes full of solar panels make their way to jobsites across the country every year. In California alone, undeniably the capital of Solar Country with its hundreds of utility-scale projects operating or under development, the number of boxes and pallets discarded during installation is staggering. One company is offering a solution for solar project managers.
“As far as the greenest way to do a project, we’re really helping out with that,” said Kasem Cornelius of STJ Corporate Recycling, which just two years ago got involved with recycling at solar project sites. “We got hit up one day to help out on one of these solar projects that was running behind. We got our foot in the door and realized that there is a lot of this to be done.”
STJ’s crew separates abandoned boxes from pallets at solar jobsites, puts the cardboard in bins and stacks pallets to be transported off-site.
The company first started as a wrecking yard in 1943 and has since freshened its image to focus on recycling scrap metal and various cardboard jobs. Cornelius said he never expected the business to focus so heavily on solar sites, but STJ is located in the middle of a solar boom. Cardboard boxes now make up 90% of STJ’s work flow.
“This is definitely our main, full focus,” Cornelius said. “We still have a wrecking yard and we still do towing and scrap metal, but it’s nothing compared to what we’re doing now on this. We called in people who used to work for us that had left to go to the oil fields. We have everybody going full-on doing solar projects now.”
Breaking down boxes isn’t a one-day job. Take a typical California 100-MW utility-scale project—at least 385,000 standard PV panels are needed to reach that output. According to a Canadian Solar spec sheet, 30 panels come in a package. Just in this example, that requires over 12,830 boxes. Include the filler inside the boxes for protection, and it’s clear STJ stays busy.
“As [installers] are putting on panels, they’re just pushing that empty box to the row and aisle they drive down, and they don’t worry about it anymore,” Cornelius said of jobsites. “They push it out of the array and then we take it all from there. It’s as little of their involvement as possible.”
Working as the contractors install allows a finished solar project to be truly completed. STJ brings its own forklifts and other machinery to help with cleanup.
“We are working simultaneously, keeping the project clean visibly,” Cornelius said. “You don’t have a huge stack in the corner of a project. When it’s done, everything is done. It’s not another headache to worry about in the end.”
STJ guarantees a 100% recycling rate. A recent project had 400 tons of cardboard and nothing ended up in a landfill. For contractors not wanting to take the time to sort out contracts with local recyclers, turning to a subcontractor like STJ ensures as green a process as possible.
“We know recycling and getting this waste out isn’t the No. 1 thing companies are thinking when they’re planning,” Cornelius said. “There are a million other things that need to be handled. But instead of letting this be a worry at the end of a project, we’re trying to take this on and be there at the beginning so it’s handled in one big swoop.”