Broadband providers 'must do more' to recycle routers

image of a the backside of a wireless router
(Image credit: deepblue4you)

More than three quarters of UK consumers say they would like a ‘universal’ broadband router that will work with any provider, highlighting the growing challenge of e-waste and recycling in the telecoms industry.

The majority of broadband customers use equipment supplied by their provider, meaning they get a new router every time they make a switch. 

However providers are under no obligation to provide assistance with recycling, leading to a huge volume of unused routers that may be disposed of irresponsibly.

Router recycling

A study by uSwitch published to coincide with Global Recycling Day found nearly half (42%) of households have an unused router in their home and one in seven have two or more. This accounts to 22 million units – or enough to fill more than ten Olympic swimming pools.

As consumers become increasingly environmentally conscious, this situation is seen as unsustainable. Nearly two thirds (59%) don’t know how to recycle their equipment, while 60% believe their provider could do more to help them to do so.

The calls for a universal router reflect this frustration, however such a scenario is unlikely. Many telcos use advanced equipment to differentiate their service and to make it easier to ensure a quality service. For example, Sky’s broadband router works with its Sky Q television equipment to create a mesh network that improves Wi-Fi coverage across the home.

Standardised equipment makes it easier to diagnose problems and also enables ‘plug and play’ installation as settings are preconfigured.

The survey suggests that customers are seemingly unaware of the role of hardware differentiation and that broadband providers need to do more on recycling.

“We can all be guilty of holding onto tech for longer than we need, but the volume of e-waste is now a serious problem and with more than 22 million routers collecting dust in our homes. Action must be taken,” said Nick Baker, broadband expert at

“With the majority of routers coming from the providers in the first place, they need to step up and play a bigger role in tackling this issue.

“Well over half of people don’t know how to recycle an old router, pointing to a lack of awareness among the public. Providers must bridge this gap and ensure their customers have all the information they need to dispose of old routers in an environmentally friendly way.”

Environmental concerns are also partially driving the market for refurbished phones, with consumers eager to recycle their devices and get money off a new one or hoping to get new technology for a lower price.

Steve McCaskill is TechRadar Pro's resident mobile industry expert, covering all aspects of the UK and global news, from operators to service providers and everything in between. He is a former editor of Silicon UK and journalist with over a decade's experience in the technology industry, writing about technology, in particular, telecoms, mobile and sports tech, sports, video games and media.