Sustainability Blog

One Charger for All, and All for One

By Gabriela Wheeler - Jun 28, 2022

One of my longtime dreams has come true. I can bid adieu to the chaos of wires and chargers that fill a whole drawer in my office and sometimes snake around the furniture, making an unsightly mess and posing a trip hazard. European Union lawmakers reached an agreement on a common charger cable for phones and small devices.

The agreement states that by 2024, everything must use USB-C chargers. Buyers will not have to buy seperate chargers for each mobile phone, tablet or  portable video game. Many see the agreement, which the European Parliament and the Council both must formally approve, as an important step in “consumer convenience.”

But the initiative goes far beyond saving consumers money and getting rid of the frightful cable clutter that blights most homes. It will also protect the environment.

“With an estimated half a billion chargers shipped for portable devices in Europe each year, the initiative to reduce consumer inconvenience and easily avoidable e-waste caused by the prevalence of different, incompatible chargers is, we believe, both necessary and much overdue,” the One Planet Network newsletter said.

The EU’s fastest growing waste stream is e-waste, yet according to the newsletter, less than 40% is recycled. E-waste covers many products, such as white goods, laptops, printers and gadgets thrown away after use.

In February 2021, the parliament adopted a resolution on the new circular economy action plan. It demanded additional measures to achieve a carbon-neutral, environmentally sustainable, toxic-free and fully circular economy by 2050. Included were tighter recycling rules and binding targets for materials use and consumption by 2030.

Then, on Sep. 23, 2021, the European Commission adopted a legislative proposal to amend the 2014 Radio Equipment Directive. The amendments was a first step toward mandating a common charger for mobile phones and other small portable devices. The proposal dictates these devices must be equipped with a USB-C socket and can be charged with USB Type-C compatible cables. Devices must also use the USB Power Delivery communication protocol, the parliament newsletter said.

Among other directives, companies have to offer consumers an option to buy devices with or without a charger (unbundling). They still have to offer cables with every device. The proposal would accompany an initiative on the eco-design of external power supplies, so that the receptacle and the communication protocol for both ends of charger cables would be harmonized.

Electrical wires and chargers are a small proportion of all e-waste. But these cables end up in the trash and are unlikely to ever see an afterlife. The EU initiative should help curb squandering valuable resources and redcue the amount of electronic parts that end up in a landfill, as well as stop the environmental harm that they create.

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