"Lord of the Rings" was a documentary. At least, if the ring was a USB-C charger and Middle-earth was the European Union. On Tuesday, EU lawmakers agreed to make USB-C charging the standard for the 27-nation bloc, a move that will cut down on e-waste. It could also have a notable impact on Apple.
The provisionally passed law will require USB-C charging ports to be standard by 2024 for small- and medium-sized electronic devices sold in the EU. The decision will help consumers collectively save an estimated $268 million a year, which is great for people. The decision will also avoid 11,000 tons of e-waste annually, which is great for the planet.
"We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger," Margrethe Vestager, the European Commissioner for Competition, said last year when the law was being crafted.
A 2021 analysis by the European Commission found that 44% of smartphones sold in 2019 in the EU used USB-C charging while 38% still rely on micro-USB (those devices tend to be older and cheaper). The former is expected to completely overtake the latter by 2026. But a pesky 18% of mobile devices use Apple's Lightning connector, a share the commission found was likely to stay the same absent legislation. Apple had previously pushed back on the law, saying it would stifle charging innovation. The company's laptops support USB-C charging, so it's not like Apple can't adapt. (Yes, that's a charger joke.)
E-waste is a growing global problem. An analysis by the United Nations and the International Telecommunication Union found that nearly 54 million tons of e-waste accumulated in 2020, the last year with global data available. The EU USB-C decision is a relative drop in the bucket at that scale. But it's one of a number of policies that could be coming to force the tech industry to stop using the planet as a toxic waste dump.
Right-to-repair laws have sprung up, which could give new life to aging electronics. Finding ways to cut down on the number of new devices going into circulation every year won't just reduce the amount of landfill space going to e-waste. It could also be a major climate boon; an estimated 68% of electronic devices' carbon emissions are tied to the manufacturing process.
Some tech companies have. Notably, eBay recently opened up its accounting books to show how re-commerce on the site is helping avoid emissions, particularly when it comes to electronics.