The European Parliament is fed up with e-waste—in particular, charging cables. To fix the problem, lawmakers are debating a binding measure that would force gadget makers to use a standardized charging port.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen this from Europe. One reason why microUSB is so prevalent is back in 2009, the European Commission pushed for it as a universal standard on the continent. Even Apple, the notorious standout in the world of proprietary chargers, acquiesced and made available a microUSB adaptor. (Of course, it was Europe-only).
Once that initiative expired in 2014, European lawmakers tried again to force a common charger, reiterating that it would be not only convenient for consumers, but would also limit e-waste. The only problem was the initiative called for a “voluntary approach”—a strategy that in a briefing, the European Parliament said has “not yielded the desired results” and “fell short of the co-legislators’ objectives.” And, while the briefing doesn’t specify exactly what port type it has in mind, at this point, USB-C is the likeliest contender.
Ideally, the lawmakers state that the common charger would be able to fit all mobile phones, tablets, e-book readers and other portable devices. This is a good, sensible, environmentally friendly idea. And just as I type that out, you probably already know the major player that is against it.
In 2018, European lawmakers conducted an inception impact assessment on the idea of a common charger and called for feedback from manufacturers. In January last year, Apple provided it. In its statement, Apple contends that “regulations that would drive conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones freeze innovation rather than encourage it. Such proposals are bad for the environment and unnecessarily disruptive for customers.” Apple went on to say that nearly 1 billion devices have already shipped with a Lightning connector and cited the third-party ecosystem that has popped up around creating Lightning connector accessories. Requiring a standard, it says, would “result in an unprecedented volume of electronic waste and greatly inconvenience users.”
Apple citing inconvenience and waste as a reason not to adopt a new, probably non-Lightning standard for charging is ironic, to say the least. Moving from the 30-pin charger to the Lightning connector in 2012 was ultimately a good thing for Apple users, but it had a fair share of detractors at the time. Likewise, a common charger would be great and beneficial to everybody! Sure, the adjustment period would suck, but I’m pretty sure most consumers would also be stoked at not having to shell out for proprietary chargers and even more dongles. (Even if some people love dongles.)
Despite its reluctance, it’s not impossible that Apple could finally ditch proprietary chargers for good. After all, iPads and MacBooks have already switched over to USB-C. Of course, that would mean Apple would have to willingly give up charging you an arm and a leg for Lightning accessories, which it probably isn’t all that keen on doing. It’s also possible Apple may not have a choice. The European Parliament will have to put the matter to a vote in an upcoming session, and should a common charging type be mandated, it might be easier for Apple to just comply. Or, maybe it’ll weasel its way out by, once again, selling another dongle.