On 4 October 2022, the European Parliament adopted a proposed law that means by the end of 2024, there will be one single charger for all mobile phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, headsets, handheld videogame consoles, portable speakers, e-readers, keyboards, mice, portable navigation systems and earbuds in the EU (by 2026 to also include laptops). The USB Type-C port will be the new standard for portable devices. This is part of a broader EU effort to reduce e-waste. EU Member States are expected to give their final approval to the law during the Environment Council meeting later this month.
The change will come as an amendment to the 2014 Radio Equipment Directive and will contain the following main provisions:
- Devices will need to be equipped with a USB-C receptacle and, in cases of charging power lower than 60 watts, be rechargeable with cables that comply with the same standard;
- Devices should incorporate the USB Power Delivery (USB PD) standard and ensure that any additional charging protocols allow for full USB PD functionality;
- Charging interface(s) and charging communication protocol(s) are to be considered as essential requirements for the devices;
- There will be provision for amendment by delegated acts for future wireless solutions to account for technological progress;
- Consumers are to be given the choice of purchasing a device either with or without a charger;
- The packaging (or a label) will provide information on specifications relating to charging capabilities, including a description of the chargers' power requirements and safety information;
- There will be reference to the new essential requirements for the conformity assessment procedures (Article 17(2) RED); and
- Member States will have 12 months to transpose the provisions of the directive into national laws, to be applied within 12 months of that date.
Disposed of and unused chargers account for approximately 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually in the EU, and the European Commission reports of consumers experiencing problems relating to phone chargers, namely, having too many chargers taking up additional space and not being able to charge different devices with the same charger. The new legislation could therefore be seen as a positive step towards the EU’s wider goal to reduce e-waste, in line with the raft of new policy changes being introduced to promote a circular economy and to meet the Green Deal climate change goals by 2030. That is not to say that the legislation has been received without criticism – some companies have raised concerns surrounding the stifling of innovation. The new legislation will also have a more significant impact on specific companies that have chosen (whether for technological advantage, user experience or some other reason) to adopt alternative charging ports, which will place them at a financial disadvantage, at least in the short-term. It has been noted that chargers generate a small proportion of total e-waste, which the EU estimated at 4.5 million tonnes in 2019. Several critics have also pointed out that the new proposal will, in the immediate term, contribute to an increase in e-waste, as consumers may elect to discard incompatible devices and that USB-C is a relatively old technology and could be superseded in the near future by improved charging options, which may create further excess e-waste.
The position in the UK is uncertain, the UK government has previously suggested that it will not follow the EU. These changes are likely to apply in Northern Ireland under the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. Separately, until 3 November 2022 the European Commission is holding a call for evidence on progress made under existing law on waste from electrical and electronic equipment and further proposals are anticipated.
Developers and manufacturers across the EU and in the UK should take note of the legislative changes and participate in the ongoing call for evidence.
Co-authored by Alexandra Brown, Trainee Solicitor at CMS.