In Europe, the quest to reduce electronic waste took a major turn as the European Parliament voted to introduce a single charger for electronic devices by 2024. Some of the devices affected include mobile phones, tablets, cameras, e-readers, earphones, gaming consoles and health trackers.
According to this technological reform, which received overwhelming support from EU lawmakers with 602 votes in favor and only 13 against, mobile and other electronic device charging cable manufacturers will have until 2024 to switch to USB-C charging port.
The motion to adopt a single charger for mobile devices in Europe was kicked off by the European Commission in September 2021. The move aimed to provide actionable policies that will help meet the EU climate change goals of reducing 55% of emissions by 2030 as well as a long-term goal of ensuring net-zero emissions by 2050.
Although the motion for adopting one-charger-fits-all for mobile and other portable electronic devices was accepted in September 2021, the formal approval came a few days ago.
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With this new development, the EU Parliament also approved that this innovation will affect laptops by 2026. According to the Parliament, these new policies will ensure that consumers will no longer spend money on chargers when they change their devices, as they will be able to use a single charger to power a wide range of small and medium-sized portable electronic devices.
Under this new law, manufacturers of all new mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld video game consoles and portable speakers, e-readers, keyboards, mice, portable navigation systems, earbuds, and laptops that are rechargeable via a wired cable, operating with a power delivery of up to 100 Watts, will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port.
How the EU arrived at this new policy
In 2020, the EC reported that approximately 420 million mobile phones and other mobile electronic devices were sold in the European territories. The EC report further suggested that, on average, mobile phone users own about three phones and three different chargers.
Despite using designated chargers for each mobile device, 38% of consumers report having experienced problems with phone-charger compatibility. This situation affects mobile phone users, as it sometimes leaves people unable to charge their devices when they are not with their chargers or forces people to buy new chargers when they can easily use any nearby charger to power them.
According to the EC report, the situation is not only inconvenient but also costly for consumers, as they spend about $2.3 billion annually on stand-alone chargers that do not come with devices. Furthermore, this condition also leads to unnecessary waste, as it adds to the number of disposed and unused chargers estimated to contribute about 11,000 tons of e-waste annually.
In a bid to address these challenges, the EC, in 2009, moved to support a common charging solution for mobile phones and similar electronic devices.
The Commission’s first action toward this common charging system was to facilitate a voluntary agreement by the industry in 2009 that resulted in the adoption of the first Memorandum of Understanding. This agreement had several existing charging solutions for mobile phones on the market reduced from 30 to three. However, the MoU expired in 2014, giving rise to a renewed call for the adoption of a single charging solution for all mobile devices in 2021.
What does this new change herald?
With every new change comes an effect. Come 2024, it’s expected that the EC must have unified interoperability requirements and pass them to manufacturers. Once this is done, we will expect less of the much-talked-about technological “lock-in,” whereby a consumer becomes dependent on a single manufacturer because choosing another manufacturer for any accessory will result in a total change of device.
Another thing that will change with this new development is that buyers will also be able to make better choices about whether or not to buy a new charging device with a new product. This means buyers can easily walk into a seller’s store and buy their preferred device from one manufacturer and the charger from another.
The EC also projects that these new policies will lead to more re-use of chargers and will help consumers save up to $246 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases. EU Parliament’s rapporteur, Alex Agius Saliba (S&D, MT), reaffirms the significance of this move:
“The common charger will finally become a reality in Europe. We have waited more than 10 years for these rules, but we can finally leave the current plethora of chargers in the past. This future-proof law allows for the development of innovative charging solutions in the future, and it will benefit everyone—from frustrated consumers to our vulnerable environment. These are difficult times for politics, but we have shown that the EU has not run out of ideas or solutions to improve the lives of millions in Europe and inspire other parts of the world to follow suit.”
Nevertheless, it’s crucial to note that while consumers of these electronic products will receive this policy with a smile, mobile phones and other portable device manufacturers in the EU may not be as happy. The news will likely rattle Apple, who opposed this move back in 2020.
According to the tech giant, the EU’s universal charger proposal would scuttle innovation and affect its bespoke number of “Lightning” connector innovations. Apple also pointed out that the disruption will inconvenience users and lead to an unprecedented amount of electronic waste.
However, despite Apple’s push for the EU to drop the universal charging technology move in 2020, a Bloomberg report revealed that the tech giant started testing future iPhone models that will replace the Lightning port with a USB-C connector to meet with the EU common charger policies in 2024.