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June 7, 2022updated 09 Jun 2022 10:50am

Universal chargers are coming to Europe despite Apple opposition

USB Type-C will be the universal charger standard for the EU. The change could be good for consumers and the environment.

By Sophia Waterfield

The EU will make USB Type-C the universal charger port for all mobile phones, tablets and cameras by autumn 2024, with laptop devices following suit by the end of 2028. The regulations are likely to be opposed by manufacturers including Apple, which has developed its own charging port technology

Speaking after the news was announced today, the EU Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said that 15 types of devices will have to use the universal charging port, including e-readers, earbuds, keyboards, computer mice and sat-navs.

A USB Type-C port which will become the universal charger for the EU.
Universal chargers are coming to Europe despite Apple opposition (GETTY)

“Today we have made the common charger a reality in Europe,” he said. “European consumers have long been frustrated by multiple chargers piling up with every new device. Now they will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics.”

Agius Saliba added: “We have also added provisions on wireless charging being the next evolution in the charging technology and improved information and labelling for consumers.”

The provisional agreement on a universal charger, known as the amended Radio Equipment Directive that has been in the making for over a decade, is part of a broader EU effort to make products sold in the EU more sustainable, reducing electronic waste, as well as making life easier for citizens. The legislative proposal was tabled last September.

Why does the EU want a universal charger?

The EU believes creating this “Common Charger Initiative” will remove fragmentation in the charger market. Charging speed will be harmonised for devices that support fast charging, allowing users to charge their devices at the same speed with any compatible charger.

Agius Saliba explained that providing European consumers with fewer chargers would mean giving them a fairer deal. “They’ll have less chargers that they have to keep in their homes, that they have to carry with them when they are travelling,” he said. “If they had a mobile phone, a tablet and a laptop with three different chargers, now they will only have one charger for all these devices.”

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Under the rules, manufacturers will be mandated to offer consumers the choice to buy a device with or without a charger. The EU says that this “unbundling” or chargers could cut emissions involved in the production process by up to 20%.

As part of its impact assessment, the EU found that the additional stock of chargers generated unnecessary use of raw materials, greenhouse gas emissions and e-waste due to items being discarded. Fast-charging plugs, the report says, tend to be heavier and this can often offset the energy efficiency benefits they confer.

These new obligations will lead to more re-use of chargers and will help consumers save up to €250m a year on unnecessary charger purchases, the EU says. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually.

How will this impact manufacturers?

The EU's impact report accepts that manufacturers and distributors could be constrained by not being able to develop alternative charging technologies, but believes they will "need to adapt" to the new rules.

Thierry Breton, EU Commissioner for Internal Market, told a press conference that it was important for the EU to find the "right legislation" that could be updated as technology progresses but that manufacturers who were against the proposals would need to abide by the EU's rules.

One of these manufacturers is Apple, which has developed its own charging port technology, FireWire, and has unsurprisingly been vocal about in its opposition to the EU's plan, stating it would create more electronic waste as charging ports are standardised and older equipment is discarded. Tech Monitor has contacted Apple for comment.

In the EU's impact assessment, the removal of lightning cables and switching to USB Type-C cables was shown to have "high economic costs" for manufacturers and distributors, and bringing in mandatory unbundling of charger plugs and cables was shown to generate a loss of "gross profit" for manufacturers of chargers given the reduced numbers that would be sold in the EU.

The EU will formally approve the agreement after the summer recess, and it will enter into force 20 days after publication with its provisions applying after 24 months. The rules will not apply to products placed on the market before the date of application.

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