5G: at what cost?
Tech enthusiasts are anticipating the wider deployment of 5G in 2020, with demand for new devices expected to grow rapidly once the technology is more widespread. Global sales are expected to reach just 15 million 5G smartphones in 2019, increasing to 120 million units next year, according to Goldman Sachs.
The UK has invested heavily in developing a 5G network, with the country’s main network operators (Vodafone, Three, O2 and EE) already starting to roll out high-performance connectivity in several cities this year. 5G will deliver new levels of network speed and efficiency. On a 3G network you can download an average HD movie in about 25 hours. With 4G it would take less than 10 minutes and on 5G, it would take as little as 4 seconds.
What is the harm?
As we discussed in our last blog, an estimated 40 million old technology products are lying around in people’s homes across the country. This is likely to rise as old gadgets are replaced with new 5G devices. If these are not recycled properly there is a risk of wasting precious metals such as gold, silver and tantalum (used in surgical implants), of which the Earth has finite resources.
The amount of e-waste sent to landfill is expected to increase as more devices become obsolete and ‘behind the times’. 1.4 million tonnes of unwanted electronics are sent to landfill every year in the UK, leeching harmful toxins into the earth.
We work hard at GSUK to recover, recycle and reuse technology products. GSUK currently processes around 10,000 phones and more than 200,000 units of accessories – charging cables, plugs etc. – each month. Since we started in 2008, we have stopped more than 8,000 tonnes of e-waste going to landfill. That is the equivalent of 651 double decker buses. However there needs to be a shift in behaviour from manufacturers and consumers towards building a sustainable circular economy.
Not long after 5G launched, Samsung, Huawei and LG announced they were already starting research on 6G – a clear indicator of how quickly technology is evolving. 5G has the scope to open new segments of the mobile and accessories market and create a new level of connectivity, but there is equally the potential for environmental damage.
We need to work together as an industry and as consumers to build a sustainable future where we can embrace new technologies without inflicting substantial damage on the environment.