Crafting a Universal Charger for the European Union

Reducing e-waste or creating more: you decide!

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07/08/2022

Mark DiMattei

 

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Earlier this month, the European Union announced that it was going to require all new smartphones, laptops, and tablets to use a common charger by 2026. The hope is that this will reduce electronic waste by removing the need to produce and replace the various chargers we use…not to mention stopping us from purchasing new versions when we update our phones or laptops.

 

Under the new ruling, all “medium-sized” electronic devices will be required to use a USB-C charging port by 2024. This includes mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, handheld gaming consoles, headphones and earbuds, portable speakers, as well as keyboards and mice. The ruling will extend to laptops by 2026. These devices will also be required to sell without a charger in hopes of shrinking the number of them already in circulation.

 

 

Unsurprisingly, Apple has pushed back on the proposal. In a formal statement, the company said: “We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world.” Of course, it is worth noting that Apple is notorious for making its products difficult to repair for non-Apple shops and some speculate this new ruling would reduce the company’s ability to produce and sell its own cables and charging accessories.

 

Still, there are some other matters to keep in mind about this new ruling. While a common charger has been described as “common sense” by Thierry Breton, a European commissioner who helped negotiate this deal, we have to wonder if the goal of reducing electronic waste will be feasible.

 

According to Ruediger Kuehr, head of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research as well as manager of the Sustainable Cycles Programme, chargers make up a small fraction of what is produced and thrown away. Globally, only around 0.1% of e-waste that’s generated annually is made up of chargers. While this does equal to 54,000 metric tons, it is nothing compared to the 53.6 million tons of e-waste that’s generated each year.

 

Another issue that was brought up is that standardizing chargers could have the opposite effect of causing people to trash their current ones to be compliant with this new standard. Or people could purchase multiples and bring more into circulation. That said, standardizing parts tends to bring manufacturing costs down and makes it easier for pieces to be repaired or recycled. (Of course, as with any other product, people have to get in the habit of repairing and recycling rather than just throwing broken/old chargers away…)

 

Keypoint Intelligence Opinion

While it’s uncertain that this new initiative will actually reduce electronic waste in the EU, the intention is good. Having a universal charger will also reduce costs to manufacture them, which could allow companies to shift that currency towards developing phones that may be more energy efficient or require fewer resources. Regardless, it will be important that vendors, lawmakers, and all those involved stick to the guidelines and calm down any dissenters. A “universal charger” is only universal if everyone plays along.

 

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