Europe proposes common charger for electronic devices

The European Commission aims to pull the plug on consumer frustration and e-waste.

Courtesy of The European Commission

Courtesy of The European Commission

After years of working with the electronics industry on a voluntary approach proved successful in bringing down the number of mobile phone charger types from 30 to 3 within the last decade, the European Commission is now putting forward legislation to establish a common charging solution for all devices that will fall under the category.

With the proposal for a revised Radio Equipment Directive, the charging port and fast charging technology has to be harmonised with USB-C becoming the standard port for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles.

The Commission also proposed to unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices saying it would improve consumer convenience and reduce the environmental footprint associated with the production and disposal of chargers, thereby reducing the overall negative environmental impact while improving digital transitions. 

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
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

The adoption of USB-C will allow consumers to charge devices with the same charger, regardless of the device brand. 

Harmonised fast charging technology will help prevent different brands arbitrarily limiting charging speeds and help ensure speeds are the same when using any compatible charger for a device. 

Unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device will enable European consumers to purchase new electronic devices without a new charger — helping reduce the impact on the environment. This will have the added benefit of ensuring an optimal number of chargers being in circulation — with no unused chargers left to clutter up drawers and shelves.

Reducing production and disposal of new chargers is estimated to reduce electronic waste by almost 1,000 tonnes yearly.

This move will also make it mandatory for brands to provide relevant information about charging performance, including information on the power required by devices and whether or not it offers fast charging. Consumers can then more easily identify whether their existing chargers meet the requirements of their new device or alternatively it will help them select a compatible charger.

Combined with other measures by the Commission, this would help European consumers limit the number of new chargers purchased, translating to a savings of over USD290 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases.

The revision of the Radio Equipment Directive is part of the Commission's broader action to address the sustainability of products, in particular electronics, on the EU market.

A proposed transition of 24 months from the date of adoption will allow the industry ample time to adapt before the entry into application.

The proposal for a revised Radio Equipment Directive will need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council before it comes into force.

Technical considerations are already underway to make the proposal reality.

Trends in Europe

In 2020, approximately 420 million mobile phones and other portable electronic devices were sold in the EU. On average, consumers owned around three mobile phone chargers, of which only two were used regularly. Despite this, 38 percent of consumers have reported at least once that they could not charge their mobile phone because available chargers were incompatible. The current reality is not only inconvenient but also costly for consumers — nearly USD3 billion is spent annually on standalone chargers. In addition, disposed and unused chargers are estimated to amount to up to 11,000 tonnes of e-waste every year. 

To address the challenges for consumers as well as the environment, the Commission has supported a common charging solution for mobile phones and similar electronic devices since 2009.

The Commission first facilitated a voluntary agreement, with the industry, in 2009 that resulted in the adoption of the first Memorandum of Understanding leading to reducing the number of existing charging solutions for mobile phones on the market. Following the Memorandum's expiration in 2014, a new proposal by the industry presented in March 2018 was not considered satisfactory in delivering a common charging solution or meeting the need for improved consumer convenience and e-waste reduction.

Meanwhile in the Maldives

While the story is similarly familiar in the Maldives, and undoubtedly rings true to a large section across the globe; no similar initiative, nor surveys, have been conducted to ensure, and strengthen, consumer protections or, indeed, environmental protections.

The most recently appointed Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Technology should perhaps be congratulated for the "copy and paste" measures being implemented by benchmarking, and sometimes effectively cloning, efforts that have been successful in other countries when it comes to consumer related issues — such as replacing plastic straws, the energy rating systems, etc. Though these can be criticised as knock-offs from other markets, they have the benefits of leap-frogging the initial stages and going into commission faster, thus also addressing the problems expediently. To be fair to the previous occupants of the chair, they never had the full force of the presidency, nor that of the ruling party, behind them where they especially were facing an uphill battle.

In terms of the more ecological impacts, there is continuing outcry from the public over lack of proper procedures being followed, on state sanctioned development projects, when it comes to Environmental Impact Assessments and continued monitoring for negative environmental impacts. While President Solih makes sweeping proclamations regarding the environment at the UNGA, back at home, he turns a wilful blind eye to mangroves, lagoons and reefs being decimated in the name of progress. This while his ministers, including his minister for Climate Change, post platitudes on his environmental stand — as opposed to action — on social media and as quotes in annual reports. Sadly some of these quotes are what seem more important to international organisations when they seem happy to reinforce what was said but shies away from commenting publicly on the state's gross inaction.

Additionally, when it comes to consumer protection, the government has yet to assign a consumer rights ombudsmen or set up any organisational mechanisms — other, fundamental and rudimentary, initiatives for consumer protections also remain either underused or unenforced. It might be prudent to point out that the government has faced no repercussions for delays in making appointments, and sticking to timelines, as required by law — the convenience, one assumes, of a supermajority in parliament which might also prove illuminating on the ongoing Parliamentary vs Presidential debate, courtesy of our currently non-resident wandering environmentalist, and Speaker, Mohamed Nasheed.

While the government might not have the bargaining power of a whole continent to use as leverage against brands or behemoth corporations, some of them owned and largely controlled by the government, its moves, or lack thereof, towards establishing any semblance of protections for the consumers can be best described as lethargic.

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