The connections of cell phones and other battery-operated devices are still not uniform – there would actually be a suitable standard.

If you were to pull them all out of the drawers, it would be a huge mountain of electronic waste: chargers and cables. They are part of every new cell phone, bringing together 11,000 to 13,000 tons of electronic waste in the EU each year. To a large extent, it is not properly disposed of: German environmental aid estimates that the collection rate for electronic waste in Germany in 2017 was only 45 percent. Electronic waste also contains substances that can harm people. In addition, valuable raw materials such as gold or platinum are lost. In a survey conducted by the EU in June 2019, 76 percent of the 2,850 consumers surveyed agreed that the current situation is annoying for mobile phone users. Many were annoyed that it is never clear which cable fits which device. In addition, it is often difficult to find a suitable charger when you are on the go.

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The EU Parliament has therefore called on the EU Commission to “take urgent regulatory measures” to reduce the amount of electronic waste and enable consumers to make sustainable decisions. But because of Corona it won’t be that fast.

With the versatile USB-C, not only cell phones but also laptops can be charged

Actually, the problem should have been solved anyway. In 2009, the EU Commission made its first attempt to standardize charging cable connections. At that time, the leading manufacturers of mobile phones had agreed to a voluntary commitment to “harmonize the charging cables of the mobile phones sold in the EU that sold data”. However, the voluntary commitment was only partially implemented. After all, there are now no more than 30 different connections as in 2009, but three: the most widely used USB-C, Apple’s Lightning format – which makes up around 20 percent of the European market – and micro-USB. The latter is mainly used in inexpensive devices. USB-C can be used not only for smartphones, but also for other devices such as headphones, tablets and even laptops.

Apple, in particular, has so far resisted standardizing the sockets. The group claims that the amount of electronic waste could not be reduced: “There are more than a billion Apple devices with a Lightning connector. Legislation to standardize charging cables would (…) generate an unprecedented amount of electronic waste.” Philipp Sommer of Deutsche Umwelthilfe sees it differently: “Every few years there are new requirements or functions of charging cables. This means that the old charging cables are replaced anyway. A standardization would therefore reduce the unnecessary production of charging cables because it is easier to replace existing cables can be used. “

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Most chargers today consist of two parts, the cable and the power plug with charging electronics. According to the authors of an EU study, this could help to reduce the amount of electronic waste. If only one part is defective, only this can be replaced. In order to reduce electronic waste, cell phones and charging cables would have to be sold separately. The analysis on behalf of the EU comes to the conclusion that the number of charging cables and thus the amount of electronic waste could be reduced much more effectively if cell phones and chargers were sold separately: “The more cell phones sold without a charger, the bigger would be the relief for the environment, but many customers would not go along with it, because the survey also showed that 40 percent of those questioned refused to buy a cell phone without a charger, 36 percent refused to buy a new cell phone with a charging cable but no charger The most common reason: If a complete charger with plugs and cables is supplied with the new phone, there is no need to worry about how and with which device the new phone can be charged, and only nine percent would be willing to use the new phone without a charger to buy – even if it were cheaper. Philipp Sommer sees a good one in environmental aid when it comes to costs n Starting point for change: “The charger is not free of charge just because it is included, but of course this is added to the price. That means the cell phone price could also be cheaper in the future if the charger is no longer included. “

Manufacturers in particular who tried to offer the cheapest smartphone could lower the price if they no longer included a charging cable. However, the EU study sees no mandate and no legal basis for such a far-reaching intervention in the previous freedoms of tech companies. Such a move would “significantly change” the scope of the proposed initiative to standardize the interfaces, is “highly controversial” and “entails the considerable risk that the EU could be accused of regulatory fury”. The authors of the study prefer to trust that the market regulates itself.

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With cheap chargers, only 60 to 80 percent of the electricity arrives in the cell phone

Selling a cell phone and charger separately would have another advantage, says Bernd Wunder, Group Leader DC Networks at the Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Systems and Device Technology: “If the chargers are supplied as accessories, they cost around five euros to manufacture. Because they have to be cheap to manufacture, the quality is correspondingly low. ” You therefore need more electricity than better chargers. Only 60 to 80 percent of the energy that flows from the socket into the charger arrives as a battery charge in the device. If it were a miracle, the EU should not only think about standardizing the interfaces, but also about the energy efficiency of chargers and cables. After all, users would have more of it if they only had to buy a charging cable that might be more expensive, but would be more efficient and, thanks to the standardized interface, can be used in a uniform manner for multiple devices.

In any case, the manufacturers want to stick to the previous concept. They argue that customers would expect a charging cable as a standard accessory. Buying a fully functional cell phone – including charging solution – is consumer behavior that has been learned, especially with expensive devices. The manufacturers do not provide proof of this thesis. They also argue that there are concerns among consumers that the devices may not be charged optimally or that the battery or the device may be damaged if less quality chargers from cheaper suppliers are used. Manufacturers expressed concern to the authors of the EU study that their reputation could be damaged and they could be held responsible for any damage. A solution that does not require a charging cable at all would be wireless charging, in which the cell phone is placed on an induction coil without being connected to the socket via a cable. But this technique also creates problems. Daniel Granatella from the testing institute of the Association of Electrical, Electronics and Information Technology: “The efficiency of such charging cradles is not very great compared to wired charging. The cell phone must be positioned very precisely on the coil to ensure good coupling and thus charging performance.”

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