EU lawmakers are finally ready to standardize charging ports for consumer electronics such as smartphones and tablets – today announcing a proposal that, when adopted, will see the region settle on the market. ‘USB-C as a universal charging port for gadgets that will also include cameras, headphones, portable speakers and portable video game consoles.
Certain smaller consumer electronics devices, such as smartwatches and fitness bracelets, are excluded due to factors such as their size and conditions of use.
The Commission’s plan will also see regional lawmakers unbundling the sale of mobile chargers so that they are not automatically included in the box.
Fast charging standards will also be harmonized as part of the proposal – while device manufacturers will have an obligation to provide users with “relevant information on charging performance”, including information on required power and if a device supports fast charging.
“This will make it easier for consumers to see whether their existing chargers meet the requirements of their new device or help them choose a compatible charger,” the Commission notes, going on to suggest that the package will help consumers limit the number. new chargers they buy and help them save 250 million euros per year on unnecessary charger purchases.
In its announcement of the proposal, the Commission acknowledges that the “voluntary approach” it has followed for more than a decade – in trying to push the electronics industry towards a common standard through mechanisms such as a memorandum of understanding – failed to meet the standard sought. , with always three different types of mobile phone chargers involved, for example.
The broader goal here is to make a significant dent in the global mountain of e-waste by reducing a portion generated by the consumer electronics sector – with the Commission noting, for example, that consumers already own on average around three cell phone chargers, of which they use two regularly. Ergo, device makers just don’t have to put a new charger in the box every time.
It is estimated that discarded unused chargers account for some 11,000 tonnes of electronic waste per year, adds the Commission.
One of the non-standard chargers still in the mobile market, of course, belongs to iPhone maker Apple – which has resisted pressure to put a standard port in its devices – so a pan-European law to enforce a universal charger could force the technology giant to permanently abandon its proprietary Lightning port.
For years Apple has run a sprawling and undoubtedly very lucrative accessories business rather than switching to more standard ports on its devices. Indeed, it has even sometimes removed the standard ports, for example by removing the 3.5mm headphone jack on the iPhone. This means that Apple device users typically have to purchase dongles if they want to access more standard ports, which generates even more future e-waste.
It remains to be seen whether the EU legislative proposal will actually ban Apple’s dongle-based workaround for built-in universality. (We put the question to the Commission.)
Commenting on the Commission proposal in a statement, Margrethe Vestager, its executive vice-president for digital strategy, said: âEuropean consumers have been frustrated for quite a while by incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers. We have given the industry a lot of time to find their own solutions, now is the time to take legislative action for a common charger. This is an important victory for our consumers and our environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions. “
In a mirror statement, Thierry Breton, head of the EU’s internal market, added: âChargers power all of our most essential electronic devices. With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not needed. We are putting an end to this. With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronic devices – an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste.
The other EU institutions – the European Parliament and the Council – will still have to support the proposal for it to become law. Although the European Parliament has long expressed frustration over the Commission’s failure to provide a common pricing standard – and voted overwhelmingly for tougher action on the issue last year – so MEPs will likely be keen to make a pan-European law on this subject.
Even so, there will be no drastic change overnight. The Commission suggested a transition period of 24 months from the data on the adoption of the legislation. So even if Parliament and Council quickly agree on the plan, it will take years, in the plural, before device manufacturers comply.
The Commission PR notes that he wants to give the industry “enough time” to adjust to the planned change in law, even though the industry has been under more than a decade of pressure on exactly this issue.
A further step will be necessary for Europe to obtain the common charger solution desired by the Commission – with greater harmonization needed to ensure interoperability of the external power supply. Lawmakers say this coin will be addressed by the revised Ecodesign Regulation – which is expected to be launched later this year with the aim that it also comes into effect alongside the common charger port requirement.
In an FAQ on the latter proposal, the Commission responds to its own question as to why it has taken so long to grasp the legislative nettle with this question, writing that it had initially sought to pursue a more ‘ambitious voluntary approach. In the hope that the sector would engage. However, he said the proposals put forward by the industry “failed” – and would not have provided a common charging solution.
Lawmakers learning they really need to legislate seems like an important lesson as the world braces for other existential environmental challenges, like climate change and microplastic pollution.