One plug and done: EU to require a common way to charge phones

European Union officials have agreed to mandate a uniform USB-C charging cord for smartphones and other devices. This could end up becoming a de facto standard for the rest of the world, too.

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Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for internal market, speaking at a news conference about a common charging solution for mobile phones at European Union headquarters in Brussels last September

Thierry Breton, the European commissioner for internal market, speaking at a news conference about a common charging solution for mobile phones at European Union headquarters in Brussels last September.

Thierry Monasse / AP

Forget about having to rummage around through a tangle of cables for the right one. Within about two years, Europeans will need to reach for just a single cable to charge their smartphones and other devices.

European Union officials have signed a provisional agreement to require a uniform charging cord in the 27-nation bloc.

It’s part of a wider effort to make products sold in the EU more sustainable and cut down on electronic waste.

The new rules, which will take effect by the fall of 2024, mean EU consumers will have to use a common USB Type-C cable for small and medium-sized rechargeable, portable electronic devices.

The rules apply only to devices sold in the European single market, which consists of 30 countries. But, as with the EU’s strict privacy regulations, they could end up becoming a de facto standard for the rest of the world.

“European consumers were frustrated with multiple chargers piling up within their homes,” Alex Agius Saliba, the European Parliament’s lead negotiator, said at a press briefing in Brussels. “Now, they will be able to go with a single charger for all portable electronics, which is an important step to increase consumer convenience.”

The devices covered include cellphones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles, keyboards and mice, portable speakers and navigation devices.

Laptops also are covered, but manufacturers will have extra time to comply.

While many electronics makers have started adopting USB-C sockets for their devices, Apple has been one of the main holdouts.

Apple, which did not respond to a request for comment, previously said it’s concerned the rules would limit innovation and hurt consumers. The company’s iPhones come with its own Lightning charging port, though newer models include cables that can be plugged into a USB-C socket.

The EU rules also outline standards for fast-charging technology and give consumers the right to choose whether to buy new devices with or without a charger, which the EU estimates will save consumers the equivalent of $266 million a year.

Reducing electronic waste is another goal. The EU estimates disposed or unused chargers account for 11,000 metric tons of e-waste in Europe every year.

“One in every three chargers that is bundled with these products is never opened from its original packaging,” according to a European Commission assessment, Saliba said.

The EU spent more than a decade trying to cajole the electronics industry into adopting a common charging standard.

The European Parliament and European Council are expected to formally approveo the agreement after their summer break.

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