Geographies in Depth

We're getting a phone charger that works across all devices - but not everyone is happy

European Commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani and Bridget Cosgrave (L), Director General of DigitalEurope, display an harmonised mobile phone charger during a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels February 8, 2011.     REUTERS/Francois Lenoir    (BELGIUM - Tags: BUSINESS IMAGES OF THE DAY) - GM1E7281SMZ01

Plugged in. Image: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Philip Blenkinsop
Senior Correspondent, Reuters
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  • Members of the European Parliament voted by 582-40 for a resolution to ensure EU consumers don't have to buy new chargers with each new device.
  • Electronic waste was 16.6 kilograms per EU inhabitant in 2016, for a total of 12.3 million tonnes.

EU lawmakers overwhelmingly called for rules to establish a common charger for all mobile device makers across Europe, a drive that iPhone maker Apple has criticised.

Members of the European Parliament voted by 582-40 for a resolution urging the European Commission, which drafts EU laws, to ensure that EU consumers are no longer obliged to buy new chargers with each new device.

An AirPower wireless charger is displayed along with other products during an Apple launch event in Cupertino, California, U.S. September 12, 2017. REUTERS/Stephen Lam - HP1ED9C1KW8ES
Wireless charging could be key in reducing waste. Image: REUTERS/Stephen Lam

The Commission should adopt new rules by July, the lawmakers’ resolution said.

The resolution said voluntary agreements in the industry had significantly reduced the number of charger types, but had not resulted in one common standard.

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Electronic waste, the resolution said, was some 16.6 kilograms (36.6 pounds) per EU inhabitant in 2016, for a total of 12.3 million tonnes, an unnecessarily large amount.

The resolution also said wireless charging could prove beneficial by mitigating waste, but urged the Commission to adopt rules that ensured wireless chargers were able to charge many different mobile devices.

A move to a common charger would affect Apple more than any other company as iPhones and most of its mobile products are powered by its Lightning cable, whereas Android devices are powered by USB-C connectors.

Apple said last week that the industry was already moving to USB-C and that regulation to force conformity would stifle innovation, harming European consumers. An abrupt switch would itself result in a mountain of e-waste, it said.

The European Commission, which acts as the executive for the EU, has been pushing for a common charger for more than a decade.

In 2009 it got four companies including Apple, Samsung, Huawei and Nokia to sign a voluntary memorandum of understanding to harmonize chargers for new models of smartphones coming into the market in 2011.

However, Commission officials say the voluntary approach is not working and the EU executive is now looking into legislation and has included the common charger as one of the set of actions it plans for this year.

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