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EU proposes legislation requiring all mobile devices, including iPhones, use a universal charger

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(EUROPE) — Lawmakers in Europe on Thursday unveiled a proposal to force smartphone makers to adopt a universal, brand-agnostic charging cable in an effort to reduce electronic waste.

The plans call for a USB-C cable to become the universal standard for all smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. While years of collaborating with the industry on a voluntary approach have brought the number of mobile charger types from 30 to 3 within the last decade, according to a statement from the European Commission, the new legislation would establish a single common charging solution.

Apple, with its proprietary Lightning cables, remains one of the major holdouts to have a unique charger for its devices — though some of its more recent devices do include USB-C charging. The company has previously argued that the proposal would impede innovation.

“Chargers power all our most essential electronic devices,” Thierry Breton, the EU’s internal market commissioner, said in a statement. “With more and more devices, more and more chargers are sold that are not interchangeable or not necessary. We are putting an end to that.”

“With our proposal, European consumers will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics — an important step to increase convenience and reduce waste,” Breton added.

Margrethe Vestager, the European Commission’s executive vice president for the digital age, added that consumers have been “frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers.”

“We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger,” Vestager said in a statement Thursday. “This is an important win for our consumers and environment and in line with our green and digital ambitions.”

Some 420 million mobile phones and other portable electronic devices were sold in the European Union in 2020, the lawmakers said, and consumers on average own about three mobile chargers but only use two on a regular basis. The group estimates disposed of and unused chargers pile up to some 11,000 metric tons of waste each year.

The Commission also seeks to unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices in order to reduce the environmental footprint associated with the production and disposal of chargers. It also is asking producers to provide clearer information about charging performance, including how much power is required by a device for charging.

The lawmakers estimate that all together the new measures will help consumers in Europe limit the number of new chargers purchased and save nearly $294 million (€250 million) per year on unnecessary charger purchases.

Apple told ABC News that it is continuing to work with the European Commission to understand the full details of the proposal, but argued that the legislation could disrupt a thriving ecosystem, inconvenience users and actually create electronic waste.

“Apple stands for innovation and deeply cares about the customer experience. Some of the most innovative thinking at Apple goes toward building products with recycled and renewable materials,” an Apple spokesperson said in a statement. “We share the European Commission’s commitment to protecting the environment and are already carbon neutral for all of our corporate emissions worldwide, and by 2030 every single Apple device and its usage will be carbon neutral.”

“We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world,” the statement added. “We look forward to continued engagement with stakeholders to help find a solution that protects consumer interest, as well as the industry’s ability to innovate and bring exciting new technology to users.”

The U.S.-headquartered company also noted that the European Commission previously sought to mandate that all smartphones only use USB Micro-B connectors, which would have restricted the advancement to Lightning and USB Type-C chargers.

The proposal will next need to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council, and the lawmakers have proposed a transition period of two years — which Apple has called concerningly short — from the date of adoption to give the industry time to adapt.

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