The US could implement a law similar to the EU’s universal charger mandate if a trio of Senate Democrats get their way.
In a letter [PDF] to Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo, two of Massachusetts’ senators Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, along with Bernie Sanders (I-VT), say a proliferation of charging standards has created a messy situation for consumers, as well as being an environmental risk.
“As specialized chargers become obsolete … or as consumers change the brand of phone or device that they use, their outdated chargers are usually just thrown away,” the senators wrote. The three cite statistics from the European Commission, which reported in 2021 that discarded and unused chargers create more than 11,000 tons of e-waste annually.
Consumers, the senators argued, are also negatively affected. The same EC report cited above found that the average consumer owns three mobile phone chargers, but despite this some 40 percent reported occasions of being unable to charge their device due to not having the right cable.
The EU’s response to the proliferation of Lightning ports, Micro-USB, USB-A and other standards was to simply shut the door on its single market to anyone not adopting USB-C. Commissioners decided early this month to vote that policy into law, giving tech companies 24 months to adapt.
While laws of this type don’t single Apple out, the iMaker is definitely a central subject. Speaking to reporters at a press conference announcing the new law, Maltese MP Alex Agius Saliba said the rule applies to everyone, and called Apple out by name.
“Apple has to abide,” Saliba said.
In May, Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicted that from the second half of 2023 Apple may dump the Lightning port used in its iPhones in preference of USB-C. This, he added, could speed transfer and charging rates.
Under the EU’s law, all electronics – cameras, phones, tablets, earbuds, speakers and the like – must be equipped with a USB-C port that can deliver power. While most Android devices, and even newer Apple iPads, come with USB-C, the iPhone is holding stubbornly to its Lightning Port.
“We urge [the Department of Commerce] to follow the EU’s lead by developing a comprehensive strategy to address unnecessary consumer costs, mitigate e-waste, and restore sanity and certainty to the process of purchasing new electronics,” the senators’ letter read.
It’s not a stretch to say most people would be happy to ditch cable spiderwebs and cluttered drawers for a few USB-C cords, but USB-C itself is an unstandardized mess. Cables come with different wattage capacities and data transfer speeds, and some USB-C cables are designed to only deliver power, not data. To compound the confusion, USB-C ports can be configured for power alone.
If the Department of Commerce takes action, it will need to be very precise to prevent USB-C from simply becoming another addition to a confusing maze where the wrong cable is still the wrong cable, but with the added fact they all look the same. ®