European Parliament Calls for Binding Regulation on Phone Chargers
19 February 2020
The European Parliament has called upon the European Commission to table binding rules requiring uniformity in mobile device chargers by July 2020. With such an initiative, the Parliament and the Commission seek to reduce waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). However, stakeholders such as Apple have manifested their discontentment with the initiative, claiming that it poses a risk against innovation.
The Parliament claimed an “urgent need for EU regulatory action” to reduce WEEE and persuade consumers to make sustainable choices. Such a call from the Parliament is contained in a resolution approved by a landslide vote (582 votes to 40, with 37 abstentions), which demands a mandatory introduction of common chargers for mobile devices.
Since 2014, Directive 2014/53/EU (the “Radio Equipment Directive”) had imposed the obligation for producers of radio equipment, as defined therein, to manufacture their goods so that these could be charged with common chargers. According to the provisions contained in the Radio Equipment Directive, the Commission has been entrusted with the task of adopting a delegated act in order to specify the types of electrical and electronic equipment (“EEE”) that must have common chargers.
The Parliament is now calling upon the Commission to adopt the delegated act or, if necessary, table a legislative measure, by July 2020 at the latest.
The Parliament has insisted that the Commission's approach of merely “encouraging” the industry to develop common chargers fell somewhat short. However, the Commission in the plenary debate that was held at the Parliament last month claimed that “some progress has been made”, since 2009 (as explained below), when there had been more than 30 charging solutions, while today, due to the progress, there are only three types of charger.
The Parliament has further asked the Commission to:
- take measures to best ensure the interoperability of different wireless chargers with different mobile devices;
- consider legislative initiatives to increase the volume of cables and chargers collected and recycled in EU Member States;
- implement strategies to decouple the purchase of chargers from the purchase of new devices so that consumers are no longer obliged to buy new chargers with each new device; and
- avoid potentially higher prices for consumers.
The Parliament warned that in order not to hinder innovation, the Commission must ensure a regular scrutiny of the legislative framework for a common charger regularly so as to take into account technical progress. MEPs insist that research and innovation are vital to improve existing technologies and come up with new ones.
Although the Parliament and the Commission seek to take measures without jeopardizing innovation, Apple warned that the call by the Parliament could create a mountain of electronic waste and, indeed, hamper innovation. A move to a common charger would reportedly affect Apple more than any other company as most of its devices are powered by its lightning cable, whereas Android devices are powered by USB-C type connectors. “We believe regulation that forces conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones stifles innovation rather than encouraging it and would harm consumers in Europe and the economy as a whole”, Apple claimed in a statement.
Hong Kong traders might recall that in 2009 the Commission persuaded companies including Apple, Samsung, Huawei and Nokia to sign a voluntary memorandum of understanding to harmonize chargers for new models of smartphones coming onto the market in 2011. Moreover, a 2014 study evidenced a reduction in the number of different chargers for smartphones from 30 in 2009 to three.
Regarding environmental impacts, the Parliament explained that, according to its estimates, around 50 million metric tonnes of WEEE are generated globally per year, with an average of more than 6 kg per person. In Europe, the total WEEE generated in 2016 was 12.3 million metric tonnes, equivalent to 16.6 kg on average per inhabitant. The Parliament noted that short lifecycles for some devices also lead to more WEEE.
However, Apple commissioned Copenhagen Economics (an economics firm) to conduct a study, which demonstrated that consumer harm that is derived from a regulatory-mandated move to a common charger would cost at least 1.5 billion euros, outweighing the 13 million euros in associated environmental benefits.
The Commission is expected to publish a study on the impact of a common charger in the following months.
- Electronics & Electrical Appliances