Brussels takes first legal step to end electronics charger chaos

The European Commission proposes a single charging device for mobiles, tablets, computers and consoles

2 min
Connected on the net but disconnected from real life: Specialists say that the mobile phone is a problem when it interferes with everyday life.

BrusselsCarrying three chargers with you – one for your mobile phone, one for your tablet and one for your laptop – is a common nuisance (and a mess of cables) for European citizens that the European Commission is proposing to eliminate. It's not just the inconvenience of carrying this many cables, it's also the environmental cost of making them and also disposing of them at current consumption rates. On Thursday, Brussels proposed revising a European directive to force manufacturers of smartphones, tablets, computers and game consoles to use the same charging technology.

The solution is not immediate. As always, this is the first step in the European legislative process: it requires agreement within the European Parliament and EU governments, which could take years. After that, Brussels foresees a transition period of 24 months so that manufacturers and users who have old chargers can adapt. But Thursday's announcement by the European Commission is a first step.

"Years of work with the industry on a voluntary basis have helped reduce the number of chargers of mobile phones from 30 to 3 in the last decade, but this has not been a complete solution," the EU executive says in a statement. This is why it has decided to go ahead with a revision of the radio equipment directive to standardise charging technology for the most widely used electronic devices. The common charger for all brands and devices will have to be USB-C, which is already one of the most common.

This change will mean, according to Brussels's proposal, that when you buy a smartphone or a tablet, for example, it will no longer be sold systematically with its charger. "European consumers have too long been frustrated by the mountain of incompatible chargers that accumulates in their drawers. We have given industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, but now it is time to act on the legislative front to have a common charger. It is important for both consumers and the environment," Commission executive vice-president Margrethe Vestager said.

According to the Commission, this initiative will prevent producers from unjustifiably limiting charging speed and help ensure that it is always the same. In addition, Brussels estimates that reducing the production and also the disposal of new chargers can reduce electronic waste by about a thousand tons a year, in addition to saving up to €250m a year. The data are shocking. According to the Commission, 420 million mobile phones and other portable electronic devices were purchased in the EU in 2020. On average, consumers have about three mobile phone chargers, but use two on a regular basis. However, 38% of consumers have had problems at least once when charging their phones due to incompatible chargers.