Computer Waste

E-Waste in the Age of 5G: Challenges and Solutions

The UK Government has launched a £40 million fund to maximise the benefits of 5G. It is an excellent step to enhance digital connectivity across various industries in the UK, but there would also be a price to pay. Millions of 3G and 4G devices would become obsolete and intensify the profound e-waste impact.

Outdated or abandoned computers and telecommunication devices are a significant part of e-waste. Improper disposal of this waste is unimaginably dangerous for the environment. A polluted environment brings several health risks for humans and animals. Surprisingly, e-waste is one of the fastest-growing waste streams in the UK. Reports say that only 20% of e-waste is properly recycled in the country.

We know that the e-waste problem is directly connected with technological advancements. So, every new technology brings new e-waste challenges. We will examine the ones brought by 5G in this blog post. E-waste impact in the light of the 5G revolution and its challenges and solutions are the primary subject. Let us start. 

The potential of 5G revolution & adoption in UK

5G networks can deliver the data at almost 10 Gigabits per second. That makes 5G nearly 100 times faster than 4G. But there are more vital reasons why it is called the 5G Revolution.

Adopting 5G also requires significant infrastructure changes on the network level. There will be many smaller cell towers with shorter ranges. They will be dispersed across cities and towns. It is not difficult to imagine how the number of discarded devices will shoot up with increasing 5G adoption. Examples could be smartphones, tablets, and other cellular devices.

5G investment in the UK is also accelerating. It was over £150 million in 2021, 88% more than 2020. London, Yorkshire, and East Midlands are some UK regions with the highest 5G connectivity scores. However, there is significant room for improvement in areas like Southwest, Wales, and Scotland. 

So, it becomes an important question. How do we enjoy the benefits of 5G and minimise the e-waste impact simultaneously?

5G is going to revolutionise the way we work and will contribute $12.3 trillion to global GDP by 2035.

Challenges of e-waste in 5G era

  1. Only 5G-enabled devices would be able to use the 5G network. One of the major challenges is to manage the e-waste of discarded 3G and 4G devices. Three notable items in this list are smartphones, modems, and coaxial cables.

5G would introduce new wireless modems and transform the world of home internet. Millions of old cable modems would be of no use. Coaxial cables have been the most common form of data transportation to households for years.

Fiber optic cables did replace them in the near past as an expensive substitute.

Widespread adoption of 5G would change them into e-waste as well. 

  • Secondly, the recycling of 5G devices would be more complex than the recycling of older devices. 5G devices have complex materials and components. Recycling will require more advanced equipment. When equipment would be advanced, cost minimisation would not be so easy.

An important point to remember is that the problem is improper e-waste disposal, not e-waste itself. Recycling, refurbishing, or safely disposing of can solve the problem in the long run and reduce e-waste impact.

  • Legal policymaking is a third challenge. Many companies still do not have proper e-waste management laws, irrespective of 3G or 5G.
  • Increased production of 5G phones and other devices is the fourth challenge. It will increase emissions. Only one smartphone produces 19 kilograms of carbon dioxide annually, according to research.

The number jumps to 62 kilograms if you add up the network and data centre emissions related to that phone.  

  • Here are some facts about the biggest challenge of increased energy consumption:

E-waste & e-waste impact

The situation in the UK is no less than alarming. The country produces 1.6 million tonnes of e-waste annually. Only 20% of the waste is recycled correctly. The most replaced electronic devices are laptops and mobile phones. The number of discarded mobile phones was as high as 24.9 million in 2020.

The most terrible problem is illegal export. 500,000 tonnes of e-waste is illegally sent to other developing countries every year from the UK. There is no proper tracking of what happens with this equipment. Many developing countries do not even have good recycling facilities. So dangerous metals like cadmium, mercury, and lead can quickly end up in landfills.

Following are some health conditions caused by e-waste exposure:

  • Decreased lung function
  • Reduced fertility
  • Thyroid Dysfunction
  • Cell changes, including cancers
  • Behavioral Changes

E-waste impact: environmental & social

Climate change is also a result of e-waste. E-waste disposal also has to be safe to stop it. We process raw materials for electronic devices and consume a lot of energy. That makes greenhouse gases reach the atmosphere, which results in climate change.

Another environmental problem is resource depletion. We need natural resources, metals, and minerals to build electronic devices. Increasing demand for electronic devices results in excessive use of these resources. And this problem is getting worse with the rapid adoption of 5G. 

So, societies must join hands for greater cause of e-waste management. Everyone should play a part in reducing electronic waste and the environmental consequences of e-waste. Also, businesses must understand their corporate e-waste responsibility.

A prominent role has to be played by business. Companies have piles of electronic waste every year. Their serious commitment towards recycling could not only solve a notable part of the problem but also help them earn a good reputation by reducing e-waste impact.

Businesses who care about society hire good recycling companies to deal with their e-waste. Good companies know about the dangers of improper disposal and recycle everything. They will be recycling hard drives, recycling smartphones, recycling motherboards, and all computer equipment. Some may even donate their old equipment to needy communities.

Solutions for sustainable e-waste management

  1. Of course, the best solution is recycling. Good recycling companies offer their customers safe options to recycle their old devices and network equipment. Please note that businesses and individuals both are their customers. They can contribute to reducing e-waste impact.
  • As 5G continues to spread, regulatory bodies and governments must establish clear guidelines and best practices for sustainable 5G deployment. It must include energy efficiency, waste management, and sustainable electronics.
  • Durable products and better product designs can go a long way. When you design a product to have a longer lifespan, you reduce e-waste. Design should allow easy repair and upgrade. The use of high-quality materials can help with this.

One example is renewable and biodegradable plastic. It is made of cornstarch or glucose. Sometimes, it is recycled plastic.

  • Encouraging device refurbishment and reuse is also a great solution. Reputable recycling companies can also refurbish your equipment. Hereafter, the device is no longer outdated. It can meet the latest technological standards. It has two-fold benefits. First, you reduce e-waste. Second, you can provide the newest equipment to less privileged people at lower costs.
  • 5G needs new network infrastructure, as we know. Governments should promote eco-friendly construction practices. You should use natural resources as little as possible. Governments should encourage the use of sustainable materials.
  • Renewable energy resources can give us the 5G world with a healthy environment. It is the need of today to find renewable energy resources. It would help reduce the environmental impacts of networks.
  • Latest technologies like AI, and Blockchain can also help a lot with computer recycling.
  • Governments should offer good incentives to responsible businesses and individuals. They would be the people and companies trying to reduce their computer waste. But how can businesses and individuals do this?

E-waste awareness and education

Survey shows that almost one-third of the population of the United Kingdom has no idea about recycling. They have no clue how they can recycle their electronics. One thing that can help a lot is spreading awareness. Educating people about recycling can help with e-waste management.

To handle electronic waste responsibly, you should know about electronic waste. You should know about its risks in-depth. Individuals and businesses should learn about recycling from the internet and recycling awareness programs.

If you also want to know about it, let us tell you about Recycling Week 2024. Recycling Week is an annual event. Its purpose is to spread awareness about recycling. It was held in last month of this year. In coming year 2024, it will be held from September 16th to September 22nd.

Computer Waste is a reputable organisation in the UK that collects your electronics and gets them recycled. They offer top-notch computer destruction service to ensure no one can access your data.


Businesses eagerly await 5G adoption to enjoy fast speed, impressive flexibility, and seamless integration of interconnected devices. But they should be aware of the responsibility that would come.

It would generate a lot of e-waste and require energy-efficient practices. You must ensure either recycling or safe disposal of your equipment. Also, you must follow related laws and ensure maximum utilisation of green practices. So, every business needs a recycling partner that helps meet these goals. Computer Waste is one of the best UK organisations for this.