Six years ago the European Union started ‘encouraging’ mobile phone makers to unite around a common charger format, but they didn’t take the hint.
The encouragement was introduced as part of an update to the Radio Equipment Directive, through which the European Commission tries to control that market. In the name of reducing waste (without detailing how) and simplifying their use, MEPs voted to mandate the move towards a universal charger port for mobile phones. At the time the EC decided nudge theory was the best place to start.
“The modernised Radio Equipment Directive is an efficient tool to prevent interference between different radio equipment devices,” said EU spokesperson Barbara Weiler at the time. “I am especially pleased that we agreed on the introduction of a common charger. This serves the interests both of consumers and the environment. It will put an end to charger clutter and 51,000 tonnes of electronic waste annually.”
How many consumers were consulted for them to come to that conclusion is unclear, but who can honestly say they bear no emotional scars from having to switch between two or three port formats every now and then? Similarly it’s not immediately obvious what ecological benefit of a unified charger will be, since devices always come with one anyway, but what do we know?
Anyway, for all the EC’s efforts we’re still faced with the bleak situation of having to contend with up to three charger formats and, quite frankly, it won’t do. If mobile phone makers won’t respond to encouragement, it seems, then more assertive techniques are required to ensure compliance with the grand plan.
So recently there was a call to introduce common charger for all mobile phones, which noted ‘The Commission’s approach of “encouraging” industry to develop common chargers fell short of the co-legislators’ objectives. The voluntary agreements between different industry players have not yielded the desired results. A common charger should fit all mobile phones, tablets, e-book readers and other portable devices, MEPs will insist.”
Now, by happy coincidence, or perhaps not, the industry is gravitating towards the USB-C format anyway, especially at the top end, so it’s presumably just a matter of time before it becomes ubiquitous. When that does happen the EU bureaucracy will be able to pat itself on the back for chalking up another win for consumers and the environment.