EU makes a step towards common chargers rules...again

MEPs claim the move will make life easier for consumers as well as to reduce e-waste across the bloc

For more than 10 years, MEPs have been demanding a common charger for mobile phones, tablets, e-book readers and other portable devices. And on Thrusday they once again pushed towards the introduction of such single universal charging cable by adopting a resolution on the matter.

The objective is to make life easier for EU consumers, which are currently using devices, requiring different types of plugs (such as USB 2.0 Micro B, USB-C or Apple’s Lightning) in order to be charged. The proposition has, however, been advertised not just as an issue of benefit, but also as essential for the reducing of electronic waste across the 28-country bloc.

To make this happen, the resolution is calling on the Commission to put forward beefed-up rules on common chargers by July 2020 at the latest, or, if necessary, table a legislative measure. Parliament also urges EU's executive arm to take measures to best ensure the interoperability of different wireless chargers with different mobile devices, consider legislative initiatives to increase the volume of cables and chargers collected and recycled in EU Member States and ensure that consumers are no longer obliged to buy new chargers with each new device. In regard to the latter, MEPs also demand for strategies to decouple the purchase of chargers, stressing however that “any measure aiming at decoupling should avoid potentially higher prices for consumers”.

“We are drowning in an ocean of electronic waste,” claimed Roza Thun, a participant of the European Parliament from Poland “Demand grows and with it waste and exploitation of natural resources.”

According to estimates, around 50 million metric tonnes of e-waste are generated globally per year, with an average of more than 6kg per person. In Europe, total e-waste generated in 2016 was 12.3 million metric tonnes, equivalent to 16.6kg on average per inhabitant. Short lifecycles for some devices also lead to more e-waste, notes the resolution.

But while officials claim that a common sort of charger would certainly minimise customers’ expense since gadgets might be offered without a committed charger and would be in their benefit, big companies, such as iPhones maker Apple are warning the move could actually have the opposite effect - hamper innovation, create a mountain of electronic waste and irk consumers.

“We hope the (European) Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry’s ability to innovate,” Apple said.

A study by Copenhagen Economics commissioned by Apple showed that consumer harm from a regulatory-mandated move to a common charger would cost at least 1.5bn euros, outweighing the 13m euros in associated environmental benefits.

The European Commission is scheduled to also publish a study in the coming weeks on the potential benefits and harms to deliberate the next legislative steps.

Notably, this is not the very first time the European Union has tackled this subject. Instead, this week’s initiative is the 3rd effort to disentangle billing gadgets in greater than a years. In 2009, when there were more than 30 different chargers on the market, the European Commission  reached a voluntary agreement (MoU) with 14 industry giants like Apple, Samsung and Nokia, in which the companies agreed  to harmonise chargers for new models of smartphones coming into the market in 2011. Some of the companies subsequently signed letters of intent in 2013 and 2014 after the MoU expired in 2012. But the agreement eventually expired in 2014, with the device makers going their separate ways.

Lawmakers then introduced a similar effort to re-establish a voluntary standard for a single charging port for all smartphones. But that initiative was never adopted, in part because it failed to guarantee interoperability between devices such as speakers and keyboards with smartphones.

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