During the last decade the number of available mobile phone chargers has increased from 30 to 3. Still, the situation remains highly unsatisfactory in the opinion of the European Commission. Consumers have an average of three chargers but typically only use two and each year 11 billion tonnes of waste from unused chargers end up in the trash. Given this reality and the lack of progress, The European Commission has decided to act and propose a universal charger that is valid for all mobile phones and electronic devices regardless of the brand.
“We have given the industry a lot of time to come up with its own solutions. Now the time has come for a legislative measure for a common charger. This is a major victory for our consumers and the environment and is in line with our green and digital ambitions, ”summarized Vice President Margrethe Vestager. “Chargers power all of our most essential electronic devices. More and more devices are being sold with chargers that are not interchangeable or necessary. We are putting an end to that. With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronic devices”, Explained the industry commissioner, Thierry Breton.
The community Executive has been urging the industry to make a move since 2009. That year they signed a memorandum of understanding with the manufacturers that, although it has allowed a significant reduction in the number of chargers on the market, it has not managed to meet the objective of imposing a universal charger. Despite attempts to compromise through a voluntary approach, the memorandum renewed in 2018 also failed. So twelve years later, and in the absence of progress, Brussels has decided to present a legislative proposal to modify the directive on radio equipment with the incorporation of new interoperability requirements for chargers.
Specifically, it proposes to harmonize the input port, so that USB-C, which is used in all phones that use the Android system, becomes the standard input for all devices. “It is not something against Apple,” say sources from the Community Executive recalling that the apple giant is already offering chargers that include the requirements demanded by the Commission and that in any case they can continue to maintain their Lightning connector for data transfer as long as they also offer a USB-C input.
The proposal also includes the harmonization of fast charging technology, the possibility for consumers to buy a new device with or without a charger, as well as the commitment of more information on the characteristics of these charging devices. The new requirements will apply to both mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, helmets, video game consoles, controllers or mobile speakers, although the scope can be expanded. The final decision will now be held by governments and the European Parliament in codecision. The proposal includes a transitional adaptation period of 24 months from the date of adoption for the industry to prepare. The goal, however, is for the new universal chargers to be used from 2024.
There are two great benefits that the new community initiative will bring, according to its promoters. First, It will give consumers more options so that they can use the same charger for different devices, even if they are from different brands. This interoperability will allow the charging speed to be the same and will contribute to the reuse and savings of 250 million annually in unnecessary purchases of chargers, something that consumers spend about 2.400 million each year.
In addition, it will give consumers the possibility to buy a new device without a charger, which will allow, according to Brussels estimates, to reduce electronic waste by almost a thousand tons per year and by about 180ktCO2 greenhouse gas emissions. Manufacturers, however, will still be able to give the option to buy the charger or include a cable in the box. In fact, according to the impact study that accompanies the proposal, consumers consider that it is useful to include the cable because it is one of the elements that break more easily. In 2020, according to the numbers it manages, 420 million telephones and other mobile electronic devices were sold in the EU.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.