Every time you buy a new device—whether its a smartphone, e-reader, or smartwatch—you get a new charging cable for it. Even now, thousands of old charging devices sit in the junk drawer of homes all over the world, collecting dust. Europe wants to set a standard in the tech industry. It imagines a world where the customer never has to buy a new charger because their old charge isn’t compatible with their new device.
The European Parliament has voted 582-40 in favor of a resolution urging lawmakers to set a standard for charging cables.
“Continuing fragmentation of the market for chargers for mobile phones and other small and medium-sized electronic devices translates into an increase in e-waste and consumer frustration,” the resolution said.
For the resolution to become a law, the European Commission would have to draft a law and vote on it in July. But the idea of adopting a charging cable standard has overwhelming support in Europe, as evidenced by the 582-40 vote. With some exceptions, chargers use either USB-C, micro-USB, or Apple’s Lightning Cable. The vast majority of the industry uses micro-USB and is slowly adopting USB-C.
The legislation would mostly affect Apple’s proprietary Lightning Cable.
"We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphone stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole,” Apple said in a statement published in the Financial Times. “We hope the Commission will continue to seek a solution that does not restrict the industry's ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to customers."
The EU resolution pointed to e-waste as one of the biggest reasons the industry needs to adop a charging cable standard. “50 million metric tons of e-waste is generated globally per year, with an average of more than 6 kg per person,” it said. “Total e-waste generation in Europe in 2016 was 12.3 million metric tonnes, equivalent to 16.6 kg on average per inhabitant...this represents an unnecessary environmental footprint that can be reduced.”
One of the most ubiquitous pieces of e-waste is device chargers. We seem them as disposable because every new device comes with one. Why not just toss the old one out and let it rot in a landfill? Every new upgrade means a new charger. But that may be about to change.