The European Union has taken a decisive step to cut down on electronic waste. As of 2024, all small and medium sized electronic devices sold in the community must have USB-C standard charging ports.
Back in 2009 the bloc simplified the range, from dozens of chargers to three options: “lightning”, micro-USB, and the new USB-C.
Now, the European Green Party (EGP) has celebrated the recent standardization. The group sees the measure as a way to save resources, protect the environment and the consumers. Even so, they would have preferred to make the law effective sooner.
@anna_cavazzini, Chair of the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee Greens/EFA, considered:
“In view of the climate crisis, we should have been more ambitious here. After a long ten years of waiting for the single charging cable, it is a pity that the Council has insisted that consumers will only benefit from this law in two years’ time.”
In her own words, Cavazzini explained why the EGP would have wished for more:
“Only the option for unbundling (separate sale of device and cable) with a possibility to make it mandatory in the future! [charger standarization is] a first step, but the climate crisis demands more effort!”
Although the industry has had time to come up with solutions, they allege that a one-size-fits-all charger may slow innovation. Tech groups reason that it can cause more pollution, since lighting cables and chargers owned by Apple users would be trashed.
Achieve 11,000 tons of e-waste less per year
According to the United Nations, in 2020 alone, the accumulated e-waste was 54 million tons, more than all of the commercial airlines. Over 10 tons were formally recycled, just 20% of the waste.
E-waste mismanagement results in a loss of valuable raw materials, such as gold or platinum. Besides, the e-waste produced annually is worth around $62.5 billion, more than the GDP of most countries.
The EU commission has specified: Unused or disposed chargers generate 11,000 tones of electronic waste annually.
The standard charging rule could also be a major help for the climate emergency. Approximately, 68% of the electronic devices carbon emissions are linked to the terminals and their components’ manufacturing process.
Is regulation enough to end with e-waste?
Ruediger Kuehr, head of UNITAR Bonn Office emphasized:
“It’s an important step, but it’s definitely not solving the e-waste problem”
The USB-C policy is just an initial step, with an important symbolic significance. The European Greens hope that policies like this set an example of how regulation can force companies to change wasteful practices.
While the United Kingdom has already denied following EU charger standardization, the EU Commission persists on making products in the bloc more sustainable. For instance, laptop manufacturers have until 2026 to implement the universal charging port in their products.
The Right-to-Repair law is the upcoming issue on the EU Commission’s agenda. The goal is to increase tech lifecycle to reduce the number new devices in circulation every year.
Since electronic leftovers are growing exponentially, waste-safe policies are doing so as well. Only time will tell if this type of policy is enough and arrives on time.