21st Feb 2024

EU adopts common charger law, forces iPhone redesign

  • On the left, Guenther Verheugen, EU's industry commissioner in 2019, ask phone makers to find a common charger solution. On the right, EU commissioner for competition Margrethe Vestager celebrates MEP's adoption of the new law (Photo: EC - Audiovisual Service & Twitter)
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The days of pilling up obsolete chargers in drawers and groping around to find the correct one are coming to an end.

If Nokia, Huawei, Samsung, Apple and the rest of the mobile world want to sell a smartphone, tablet, or other small electronic devices with a charging port in the EU market, it will need to have a USB-C port within two years.

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  • Smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld video game consoles will be forced to have USB-C ports (Photo: Maurizio Pesce)

On Tuesday (4 October), the European Parliament gave the final green light to new rules forcing all phone manufacturers to offer a common charging solution by autumn 2024. From mid-2026, the obligation will extend to laptops. 

The new law was approved by an overwhelming majority of MEPs,  with 602 votes in favour, 13 against and 8 abstentions.

"After more than a decade, the single charger for multiple electronic devices will finally become a reality in Europe," said Maltese socialist MEP Alex Agius Saliba, lead rapporteur on the initiative.

"The simplest solutions are often the best and most practical ones," he added.

EU regulators have been pushing to have a common charger for all electronic devices for more than a decade.

Back in 2009, when there were more than 30 different types of chargers on the market, Guenther Verheugen, then the EU's industry commissioner, voiced concerns over the fast-growing stream of e-waste in the EU caused by the mobile sector and asked manufacturers to agree on a common charger situation.

Phone manufacturers, including Nokia, Samsung and Apple, signed then a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to use the micro-USB connector as the standardised charger port for mobile phones.

With three charger types remaining in the market (USB 2.0 Micro B, USB-C and Apple's Lightning), self-regulation proved to be insufficient — prompting action from the commission.

And in 2019, the EU executive unveiled its plans to make the USB-C port the standard charging port for all smartphones, tablets, and other electronic devices.

According to the commission, this change could help consumers save €250m per year, reducing e-waste by almost a thousand tonnes yearly.

Chargers have been estimated to produce more than 51,000 tons of waste per year in the EU.

"Consumers win and the environment wins. This is a good example of the regulatory role of the EU", said Portuguese MEP Maria da Graça Carvalho, from the European People's Party.

Apple's redesign

Despite Apple's efforts to push back rules over the years, the new law will force the redesign of one of its best-selling products, the iPhone, which has a proprietary port connector.

Apple previously voiced concerns over the short period of adaptation given to the industry, pointing out that the proposal will generate "an unprecedented volume of electronic waste" in the short term.

During a debate on Tuesday before the plenary vote, EU commissioner for competition Margrethe Vestager told MEPs that the commission will monitor the evolution of charging technologies and extend the scope of the rules to, for example, wireless chargers, if necessary.

The law still needs the approval of EU member states, which are expected to vote on the common charger law at the environment council on 24 October.

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Citing an EUobserver investigation, MEPs on the consumer protection committee have slammed the EU Commission for allowing Apple to get away with refusing to comply with a common smartphone charger for over a decade.

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