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EU takes charge: why USB-Cs will rule digital devices

Source: Apple/Apple USC-C to Lightning Cable
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All smartphones sold in the EU must have USB-C chargers according to new proposals put forward by the European Commission.

The move is to stop “e-waste and consumer inconvenience, caused by the prevalence of different, incompatible chargers” for electronic devices. But will this pull the plug for existing iPhone users in Europe?

Manufacturers, such as Apple will be forced to create a universal charging solution for phones and small electronic devices, under the new proposed rules. The changes would apply to the charging port on the device body, whereas the end of the cable connecting to a plug could be USB-C or USB-A.

“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.”

Margrethe Vestager, Executive Vice-President for a Europe fit for the Digital Age

The EU said that the situation of charger incompatibility can be an issue and is not only inconvenient but also costly for consumers, who spend approximately €2.4 billion annually on standalone chargers that do not come with electronic devices.

Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to pile up to 11,000 tonnes of e-waste every year.

Around 50% of chargers sold with mobile phones in the European Union in 2018 had a USB micro-B connector, while 29% had a USB C connector and 21% a Lightning connector, a Commission impact assessment study in 2019 found.

The proposed rules will apply to:

  • smartphones
  • tablets
  • cameras
  • headphones
  • portable speakers
  • handheld video game consoles

Other products including earbuds, smart-watches and fitness trackers were not considered for technical reasons linked to size and use conditions, the BBC reported.

“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.”

Commissioner Thierry Breton, responsible for the Internal Market

A transition period of 24 months from the date of adoption will give the industry ample time to adapt before the entry into application, the EU said in a statement.

Reasoning behind the changes:

  • A harmonised charging port for electronic devices: USB-C will be the common port. This will allow consumers to charge their devices with the same USB-C charger, regardless of the device brand.
  • Harmonised fast charging technology will help prevent that different producers unjustifiably limit the charging speed and will help to ensure that charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device.
  • Unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device: consumers will be able to purchase a new electronic device without a new charger. This will limit the number of unwanted chargers purchased or left unused. Reducing production and disposal of new chargers is estimated to reduce the amount of electronic waste by almost a thousand tonnes’ yearly.
  • Improved information for consumers: producers will need to provide relevant information about charging performance, including information on the power required by the device and if it supports fast charging. This will make it easier for consumers to see if their existing chargers meet the requirements of their new device or help them to select a compatible charger. Combined with the other measures, this would help consumers limit the number of new chargers purchased and help them save €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases.

In 2020, approximately 420 million mobile phones and other portable electronic devices were sold in the EU.

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