Electronic waste is an ever-growing issue. The European Commission, an executive arm of the European Union, believes it’s a problem made worse by various devices utilizing different charging cables. Apple is a large culprit, thanks to its continued use of a proprietary Lightning cable for its iPhones and other devices. While some iPad models have shifted to USB-C ports for charging, the very popular iPhone uses a Lightning connector, even as most competitors have moved to the USB-C standard.
Rather than leave charging port decisions up to manufacturers, the European Commission has announced proposed legislation to force USB-C to become the ‘standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles.’ While many consumers think about phones and tablets when considering charging cables, cameras are important to photographers. Cameras using USB-C have become increasingly common, although there are still interchangeable lens cameras that utilize micro USB.
Are your chargers piling up in a drawer?
We propose a common charger for mobile phones and other similar electronic devices.
A single charger will be more convenient for people and will reduce electronic waste.
— European Commission 🇪🇺 (@EU_Commission) September 23, 2021
I’m confident that I’m not alone in having dozens of various charging cables scattered around. It’s wasteful. Last year, Apple removed charging cables from new iPhones, a decision lambasted by Samsung shortly before they opted to do the same thing. Undoubtedly these decisions have been driven by a desire to cut costs through reduced production, materials use and packaging size. Still, it’s also been part of an overall plan to reduce waste.
|Commissioner Thierry Breton. Image credit: Jennifer Jacquemart|
It’s not just waste that the European Commission hopes to address, it’s also consumer frustration. Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age, said, ‘European consumers were frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers. We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger. This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions.’
|Image credit: European Commission|
Commissioner Thierry Breton added, ‘Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices. With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not 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 electronics – an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste.’
The Commission is proposing more than a harmonized charging port, it’s also proposing legislated fast charging technology, forcing manufacturers to not include chargers with new devices, and improving the information consumers see about device charging performance. The Commission estimates that combined with other measures, the proposed legislation could save EU consumers €250 per year on unnecessary charger purchases.
|Image credit: European Commission|
If the proposed Radio Equipment Directive is adopted by the European Parliament and the Council by ordinary legislative procedure, a 24-month transitionary period will be adopted before the legislation takes full effect, giving the industry time to adapt. The EU parliament adopted earlier legislation proposing a common charger, so the new rules are expected to garner support, as well.
If you’re wondering if Apple could simply bundle a Lightning to USB-C adapter with products sold in the EU, per Steve Troughton-Smith, that’s not an option under the proposed EU legislation.
It also looks like the EU went all-in on this, so a manufacturer can’t get away with having a USB-C ‘adapter’ for the device vs having an actual USB-C port pic.twitter.com/Pf8VHyhfSz
— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) September 23, 2021
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Apple isn’t on board. A spokesperson told Reuters ‘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.’ Per The Verge, Apple has previously objected to similar restrictions, claiming that forcing customers to throw out existing Lightning accessories will increase e-waste. Of course, Apple has changed charging port design before.
Lead image credit: Jennifer Jacquemart