The industry-wide standard for the life of a solar panel is 25-30 years. This is a rough estimate of when the panel will start to degrade, however, not die. There are many panels which claim that their life will extend past the 25 year warranty. After that 25 year marker, panels will keep going, but produce energy at a less efficient rate.
So what do you do when the panels aren't producing enough to meet your needs any longer? Luckily, almost 95% of solar panels are recyclable. So all those years' effort towards reducing waste won't be in vain.
There are countless recycling operations that will take your panels, and some of them claim they will even pay you for the scrap.
Upon receiving the panels, they will dismantle them using mechanical methods. The aluminum frames will be removed and the remaining glass, silicone, and metal will be turned into a glass cullet mixture. This mixture is used in industrial applications. There are also more advanced methods that could be used, depending on the recycler, where they dismantle and extract more valuable components.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the “ideal recycling system” includes:
Removing frames and junction boxes
Separating glass and silicon wafer
Purifying silicon cells and specialty metals
As the world moves toward clean energy as a whole, it's undoubted that in the next couple decades we will be in need of a streamlined recycling program for this electronic waste. Many companies are on the move to provide that service for us.