EU to introduce standardised charging ports to reduce e-waste

23 Sep 2021

Thierry Breton. Image: Jennifer Jacquemart/European Union

After many years of listening to consumer frustration, the European Commission will introduce measures to make charging electronics easier and less wasteful.

After years of frustrated smartphone users coping with the proliferation of incompatible charging devices, the European Commission has today (23 September) announced it will move to standardise USB-C charging ports for all devices.

The commission will be proposing that all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld video game consoles will be charged using a standard USB-C charging port in a bid to reduce e-waste.

The move will also make consumers’ lives a lot easier as they will not have to keep purchasing individual chargers for all of their devices.

While the commission had made progress on the e-waste issue thanks to its cooperation with industry stakeholders over the past number of years, it still has not totally solved the problem. Cooperation had already brought down the number of different mobile phone chargers from 30 to 3 within the last 10 years.

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,” Vestager said.

Commissioner Thierry Breton, who is responsible for the internal market added that the proposal marked an “important step” and would “increase convenience and reduce waste”.

The proposal to standardise chargers for electronic devices forms part of the commission’s larger commitment to address the sustainability of electronics on the EU market. Other measures to be implemented include improving information on chargers for customers as well as removing the necessity for customers to buy a new charger along with a new device.

The commission proposal will now need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the European Council by ordinary legislative procedure. Once this happens, the industry will be given two years to adapt its charging devices to ensure they are fully compatible.

Last year, Apple spoke out against plans to standardise chargers, claiming it would affect innovation. The tech company added that any EU move to force it to stop using its own-brand Lightning charging cable would also risk creating an “unprecedented volume of electronic waste”.

Breton countered that the proposed new rules would not slow innovation.

“If Apple wants to continue to have their own plug, they will have the ability to do it. It’s not against innovation, it’s just to make the lives of our fellow citizens a little bit more easy,” he told the press in Brussels. He also added that Apple was entitled to put two different ports on their phones if it wished to do so.

Some of the newer iPhone models come with cables that can be plugged into a USB-C socket.

Don’t miss out on the knowledge you need to succeed. Sign up for the Daily Brief, Silicon Republic’s digest of need-to-know sci-tech news.

Blathnaid O’Dea was a Careers reporter at Silicon Republic until 2024.