For over a decade European Union has been pushing for standardization of phone chargers available on the European market. The story started in 2009 when EU pressed phone manufacturers to come to an agreement on a standardized universal charger for smartphones. At that time, it was estimated by EU research that there were around 500 million mobile phones in use in all member countries. For those 500 million devices there were over 30 different types of chargers on the market. This was thought to be not only an inconvenience to the consumers and a problem for the market but also a significant ecological problem because it generated electronic and plastic waste that had a harmful effect on the environment.
In 2009, leading manufacturers including Samsung, Apple and Nokia signed a Memorandum of Understanding in which they committed to provide chargers compatible on the basis of the micro-USB connector. Memorandum , however, allowed for manufacturers to use their own connector if an adopter was also offered. In the next 2 years since signing the Memorandum , 90% of smartphones could be charged with micro-USB plugs but the plug never become universal thanks to Apple that kept their own plugs.
Signed Memorandum expired and was resigned again in 2013, 2014 and again in 2018 when USB Type-C was added. The document was voluntary so the market continued to be fragmented in case of mobile phone chargers. This caused many NGOs, especially those concerned with environmental issues, to call for further action. The main concerns remain fragmented market which can cause detrimental market effects that include further increase of electronic waste and use of plastic, consumer frustration and competition barriers in charger manufacturing.
The EU Commission has also been unsatisfied with the results of this voluntary approach that counted on self regulation. In 2018, almost ten years after the policy for standardization of phone chargers was announced, EU Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, came out and announced that the Commission will launch an impact assessment study to examine the current situation and examine different solutions for this problem. This study is supposed to help with deciding next steps in introducing new rules and how they would operate. Results have been announced to be published in the fall of 2019.
Consumer advocates have expressed disappointment with the Commission’s loose approach and are pushing for introduction of binding and strict rules that wouldn’t leave space for voluntary actions of big manufacturers. The impact assessment study is thought to delay decisions and allow for more market fragmentation to happen. NGOs are also still stressing the negative environmental impact that is a part of the big climate change issue which is a burning subject not only in the EU but the whole world right now.
The time is closing in on final stages of regulating a new policy on this issue. Impact assessment study was done and public consultation with feedback was held. The initiative for standard chargers for mobile phones now in a stage of drafting an act. Commission adoption is planned for fourth quarter of 2019.
Vice-Chair of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the EU Parliament, Biljana Borzan has announced that new standardized chargers might be a reality as soon as 2020. She has also stated that by implementing universal chargers for smartphones, consumers would save up to 500 million euros by 2021. Implementing this would also lead to a drop in electronic and plastic waste produced in the EU every year which would be significant because phone chargers produce 51 thousand tons of waste.