An estimated 89.5 million 5G smartphones were shipped to residences and businesses in 2021. This was a big jump from the 33.4 million shipped during 2020. Apple’s iPhone sales brought in $38.9 billion during just the fourth quarter of 2021.

Though 5G technology has been in place since 2019, it’s expected that 2022 and 2023 will be the years where we see the highest rates of 5G mobile subscriptions. Approximately 15.8 million 5G mobile service subscriptions were in place by the beginning of 2021. It’s estimated that the growth will increase by about 71% to 79% between 2022 and the end of 2023.

As people upgrade, their 3G and 4G phones will become obsolete. Proper recycling of these devices is essential when it comes to protecting the environment and your personal information. If you’re getting a 5G phone, you need to understand how to recycle it responsibly.

What is 5G?

The 5th generation mobile network, aka 5G, is a technology that delivers higher data speeds, better reliability, and low latency. Think about the progression of mobile networks.

  • The 1980s – 1G made it possible to send analog voices from one device to another.
  • The 1990s – 2G switched from analog voice to digital voice.
  • The 2000s – 3G introduced mobile data, and smartphones came out.
  • The 2010s – 4G LTE made broadband service the norm.

Original cell phones were bulky and couldn’t be used for more than phone calls. As the technology improved, you could use them to send text messages, make calls, and take photos. Today, they’re mini-computers that let you complete online banking, make calls and video chats, send emails, etc.

With 5G, everything you could do with your 4G phone is possible, but it will be much faster and trouble-free. Speeds of up to 20 Gbps are likely during peak data rates and over 100 Mbps during average data rates. It can support 100 times more network traffic.

The thing to know is that 5G service is still expanding. Not every town or city has coverage yet. If you look at the different maps, many service providers still have significant gaps in rural areas. But, if you have a 5G phone, it will still work on 4G networks. However, a 4G phone is not going to work on a 5G network. Without a 5G phone upgrade, you won’t be able to access 5G.

It’s time to recycle your 4G and even 3G phones. What do you do to make sure they’re recycled correctly?

Prepare Your Phone for Recycling or Donation

Before you recycle your 4G phone, do a factory reset. It won’t delete your information entirely, but it’s a good start. Take out the SIM card and remove any micro SD cards. Uninstall any apps you use.

If your new phone has a different phone number, make sure you switch your number with all of your banks, employer, doctors, and apps before you do a factory reset. You don’t want to get locked out of an account.

Once you’ve done a factory reset, remove the battery if it is removable. Use electrical tape to cover the ends of the battery. Place any charging cables with the rest of the phone and find where you can take it for recycling or see if you can donate it and help someone who cannot afford a cellphone.

Donate Your Phone

If your phone is in good shape, consider donating it. Here are some of the donation programs available in the U.S.

Cell Phones for Soldiers – You can drop off your unneeded phones in bins nearby. If you donate 10 or more phones, the non-profit pays the shipping. Phones are refurbished and resold. Money from the sales is used to purchase prepaid international calling cards distributed to soldiers for their use when they’re stationed overseas.

Secure the Call – This is a newer Maryland non-profit that takes and repurposes cell phones for COVID patients in hospitals. When patients go into the hospital, they don’t always have their cell phone with them. Many hospitals do not allow visitors or items from the outside to be brought into the ER and ICU wards. Phones given out by Secure the Call go to patients without a cellphone who want to video chat with their loved ones. Pay the postage if you can and send them to the non-profit or print out a postage-paid label if you can’t afford the shipping.

Steps to End Domestic Violence – This organization accepts used cell phones that are wiped clean, reformatted, and handed to victims of domestic violence to be able to call 911 no matter where they are. If the phone is not repairable, it’s recycled, and proceeds from the recycling go to paying for the items these victims need.

There are many other organizations. You can find them online or at bins in local stores and businesses. If that doesn’t work for you, how about trading it in for credit towards a new phone?

Trade-In Your 4G Phone

One way to make sure your 4G smartphone is recycled is by using a trade-in program when you purchase a new 5G phone. Let your local authorized dealer take your phone and send it to an e-recycling firm. Not only is your old phone recycled properly, but you can put the trade-in value towards your new phone.

How much can you get with a trade-in? It varies from one retailer to another, and it changes often. Go to your local Best Buy to see the current offers. For example, you can sign up with AT&T to get up to $900 off an iPhone 13 with your trade-in. Verizon’s offer is good for $1,000 max with a phone, even if it’s damaged. T-Mobile has similar offers. These deals are all in effect on 1/13/21, but they’re subject to change without notice.

See if the Manufacturer has a Take-Back Program

Some manufacturers have take-back programs. If you don’t have electronics recycling bins or facilities nearby, a take-back program is an excellent option. Visit the manufacturer’s website, get the printed label, and package your unneeded cellphones to use this program. You’ll mail them back to the manufacturer for recycling.

Find a Certified E-Recycler

Before you hand over that phone, ask who the retailer uses for recycling. They may not know, but it’s always best to ask. Look for e-recyclers that shred or pulverize the phones they receive and don’t send them overseas. If they refurbish phones, ask if they destroy data first. If you’re not given that answer, take your phone with you.

The EPA publishes a list of certified e-waste recyclers that hold two vital certifications. The agency recommends making sure your electronics recycler holds both R2 and e-Stewards certifications. What if your state doesn’t have one?

The Best Ways to Recycle Your Electronics

Most Best Buy and Staples locations will take your cell phones for recycling. Sprint retailers are another option. HP, LG, Samsung, and T-Mobile offer mail-in recycling programs. You may also find Call2Recycle drop-boxes in some of your local stores, malls, and pharmacies. How do you find these boxes?

Visit Recycle Nation for a list of facilities that accept old cell phones and other electronics. Enter your ZIP, the items you want to recycle, and scroll through the list of drop-off locations. If there are Call2Recycle drop boxes nearby, they’ll appear on that list. Each result has contact information and an address to help you find the best location for your needs.