EU calls for common charger cables to fight global e-waste levels

Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 4:17 pm
Updated Tuesday, 4th February 2020, 4:18 pm

The EU has voted overwhelmingly to begin tackling the issue of "e-waste", focusing on the amount of waste generated by rival tech companies manufacturing device-specific chargers and plugs.

The EU points out that MEPs have been calling for a single charger for mobile devices for more than a decade now, but the Commission has repeatedly postponed taking steps to force an industry-wide shift.

Now the resolution has been approved by 582 votes to 40.

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What is e-waste?

E-waste is the result of leftover cables, plugs, adaptors, and smartphones; bits of tech and accessories that lose their use as technology changes.

According to the resolution, an average of more than 6 kg of e-waste is generated per year, per person, globally. That equates to nearly 50 million metric tons of waste a year.

The EU has tried to push manufacturers, such as major smartphone developers Apple and Google, to limit the variety of different cables between different products and brands.

This means ensuring that when someone buys a new product they do not need to buy a new cable for it.

For example, Apple has its own Lightning port standard charger, whilst most other companies use USB-c charger ports. If Apple also used USB style cables, then there would be no need to manufacture more cables and generate more waste.

Apple defended their unique cables as "innovative" but the EU is insisting that it move to USB standard chargers.

Apple then developed a converter so USB cables could connect to Apple phones - but this only increased the level of e-waste.

Wireless charging may be the solution

Wireless charging is a beneficial way to decrease the waste, but as the resolution suggested, wireless chargers had to be available to charge many different mobile devices.

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.

In 2009 the EU was able to persuade Nokia, Huawei, Apple and Samsung to sign a memorandum of understanding to unify chargers for new smartphone models.

Despite these efforts the Commission officials say the voluntary approach is not working.