E-Waste

Common phone charger to be introduced in EU

After more than 10 years, the EU Commission is set on releasing new legislation pertaining to a universal charger.

EU lawmakers are debating the legal implementation of a common charger for electronic devices across all 27 member states.

The decision is a decade in the making-initially, resistance by Apple stalled the introduction of a universal charger for mobile phones, tablets, laptops as well as other electronic gadgets.

The options for wireless chargers appear endless-this is because older smartphones, USB battery packs, tablets and game controllers have a micro-USB port, newer Android phones rely on the USB-C standard while Apple opts for its own Lightning port for its iPhones. The incursion of wireless charging only serves to further fragment the existing market.

Environmental activists have been criticising the current state of affairs for years, claiming that it is directly responsible for increased e-waste generation.

The EU’s plan to introduce universal chargers to the European market is based on its own research- a study commissioned by the Union found that mobile chargers will generate 13,300 tonnes of e-waste per year between 2020 and 2028.

The push towards a universal charger was initiated by the EU Commission as far back as 2009.

In June of that year, leading manufacturers such as Nokia and Samsung signed voluntary memorandums, pledging to adopt ‘chargers compatible with a micro-USB connector’.

This led to a gradual harmonization of chargers for smartphones when they came out in 2011 yet the micro-USB plug as a universal option never truly caught on. A loophole introduced to the memorandum to pacify Apple, which allows manufacturers to use their own connector if they provide an adaptor, was the main reason for this. Said exception allowed Apple to keep its own plugs as well as enabled the tech giant to introduce its proprietary Lightning connector in 2012.

In 2014, when the Commission tried to re-invigorate the debate on a potential universal charger through its Radio Equipment Directive, Apple industry representatives alleged that the new USB-C plug, now set to replace the micro-USB plug, does not fit its ‘slim devices’, an opinion contested by the Commission, which demanded expert verification for this claim.

Apple also asserts that having a common charger would stifle innovation.

A legislative proposal prescribing a uniform charger for different devices could be ready as early as this summer. A proposal had been planned for 2020 but was postponed due to the pandemic.