The expected increase in the disposal of off-grid solar e-waste (SEW) in the Global South is potentially the dark side of a promising innovation. We suggest placing research aimed at identifying appropriate schemes for the collection and recycling of SEW within a conceptual framework that builds on the literature on environmental upgrading in global value chains (GVC). We advance the GVC literature by incorporating complementary insights from social anthropology and life-cycle assessments, which will enable end-user behaviour and waste disposal to be integrated into the GVC framework. It is shown how the conceptual framework could be applied in Kenya as an example of a regional hot spot for solar e-waste. We suggest three separate research areas that would ideally be combined as a coherent and programmatic approach to ensure the provision of solid inputs informing national SEW policies and systems of regulation.