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TECH

What you need to know about the EU’s plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Union has approved a new regulation that would force tech companies to use a standard charger for mobile phones and electronic devices. What does this mean?

What you need to know about the EU's plan for a uniform phone charger
The European Union will require all manufacturers use the same USB Type C for charging ports in certain devices. (Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)

The European Parliament has approved an agreement establishing a single charging solution for frequently used small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. The law will make it mandatory for specific devices that are rechargeable via a wired cable to be equipped with a USB Type-C port.

The rules have been debated for a while, and the announcement of the agreement has caused controversy, especially among tech companies and enthusiasts. US giant Apple has repeatedly lobbied against the standardisation, saying it halts innovation.

The EU says that the new rules will lead to more re-use of chargers and “help consumers save up to €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases”. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, the bloc says.

So, what exactly are the changes?

Which products will be affected?

According to the European Parliament, the new rules are valid for small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable.

Laptops will also have to be adapted, the EU says.

Those devices will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port regardless of their manufacturer.

When will the changes come?

For most devices, the changes are set to come by autumn of 2024. However, the date is not yet set because the regulations need to go to other proceedings within the EU bureaucracy.

After the summer recess, The EU’s Parliament and Council need to formally approve the agreement before publication in the EU Official Journal. It enters into force 20 days after publication, and its provisions start to apply after 24 months, hence the “autumn 2024” expectation.

Rules for laptops are a bit different, and manufacturers will have to adapt their products to the requirements by 40 months after the entry into force of the laws.

Where are the rules valid?

The rules will be valid for products sold or produced in the European Union and its 27 member countries. But, of course, they will likely affect manufacturers and promote more considerable scale changes.

The USB-C cable, with the rounded edges, will be the standard for charging in the EU (Photo by مشعال بن الذاهد on Unsplash)

Why the uniform USB Type-C?

The bloc said the uniform charger is part of a broader EU effort to make products more sustainable, reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.

“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device”, EU Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said.

USB Type-C is a standard of charging that has been around for a while but still is one of the best options currently in the market. Also known as USB-C, it allows for reliable, inexpensive, and fast charging. A USB-C port can also be input or output, meaning that it can both send and receive charges and data.

Unlike other ports, it can be the same on both ends of the wire (making it easier and more universal in its use). It can also power devices and sends data much faster.

USB-C can also be used for video and audio connections, so some external monitors can charge your laptop and show your screen simultaneously with the same cable.

What criticism is there?

The project is not without criticism, most vocally from US tech giant Apple, a company that famously has its own charging standard, the “lightning” connection.

Apple claims that forcing a standardisation will prevent innovation, holding all companies to the same technology instead of allowing for experimentation. Still, Apple itself has been swapping to USB-C. Its iPads have already dropped the lightning standard. Its newer laptops can now be charged with the MagSafe proprietary connector and USB-C.

Apple iPhones are still charged with the company’s lightning ports – or wirelessly (Photo by Brandon Romanchuk on Unsplash)

The company’s popular earbuds and peripherals (including keyboards and mice) all charge with lightning. And, of course, the iPhone, Apple’s smartphone, also uses the company’s connection for charging.

While there have been rumours that Apple is working on new iPhones with USB-C connection (though definitely not for the next launch this year’s), the company could go away with wired charging altogether. Instead, like many tech manufacturers, Apple is improving its wireless charging solutions, even creating products dedicated to its MagSafe charging.

It won’t be completely free from the EU regulation if it does that, though. This is because the rules approved by the EU also allow the European Commission to develop so-called “delegated acts” concerning wireless charging. The delegated acts are faster processes that can be applied directly without being put to the vote.

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ENVIRONMENT

How drought is threatening Spain’s ‘green gold’ harvest

In the scorching heat, Felipe Elvira inspects the branches of his olive trees, planted as far as the eye can see on a dusty hillside in southern Spain. "There are no olives on these. Everything is dry," the 68-year-old laments.

How drought is threatening Spain's 'green gold' harvest

Elvira and his son own a 100-hectare (250-acre) olive farm in the southern province of Jaen in sun-drenched Andalusia, a region which produces the bulk of the country’s olive oil.

But a severe drought gripping much of Spain threatens to shrivel their harvest this year.

“We are used to a lack of water, but not to this point,” said Elvira.

The region used to get 800 litres (210 gallons) of rainfall per square metre, but is set to get around half that amount this year, he said.

“Every year it’s worse,” Elvira said.

Global warming is hitting Spain harder than most European nations.

The country has suffered three intense heatwaves since May, damaging crops already grappling with an unusually dry winter.

“Olive trees are very resistant to water scarcity,” said Juan Carlos Hervas, an expert with the COAG farmers’ union.

But when droughts become extreme, the trees “activate mechanisms to protect themselves. They don’t die but no longer produce anything,” he added.

Spanish farmer Felipe Elvira poses during an AFP interview near Fuerte del Rey, southeast of Spain on July 21, 2022. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

‘Absolutely dramatic’

Hervas predicts the olive harvest from unirrigated land will come in at less than 20 percent of the average of the last five years.

The harvest from irrigated land will be just 50 to 60 percent of this average, he said.

But water reserves are dwindling.

The Guadalquivir river, which provides Andalusia with a large part of its water, is in “an absolutely dramatic situation” due to the lack of rain, said Rosario Jimenez, a hydrology professor at the University of Jaén.

Reservoirs fed by the river are at just 30 percent of their capacity, according to Spain’s ecological transition ministry.

“Some are even at 10 percent capacity — that is practically dried up,” said Jiménez.

Farmers have also noticed changes in recent years.

“Not only does it rain less, but when it falls, it does so torrentially. The water flows without penetrating the earth,” said Hervas.

Parts of Portugal and Spain are the driest they have been in a thousand years due to an atmospheric high-pressure system driven by climate change, according to a study published this month in the journal Nature Geoscience.

The phenomenon is set to increase, jeopardising crops like olives and grapes.

At stake is a key export: Spain supplies nearly half of the world’s olive oil. Its exports of this “green gold” are worth some 3.6 billion euros ($3.7 billion) per year.

Experts predicts the olive harvest from unirrigated land will come in at less than 20 percent of the average of the last five years. (Photo by PIERRE-PHILIPPE MARCOU / AFP)

Olive dependence

Olive oil has been an essential part of the Mediterranean diet for thousands of years and olive trees cover many hillsides in southern Spain, which are often unsuitable for other crops.

“Many villages here depend entirely on olive trees. Without olives, there is no more revenue,” said Hervas.

Seven out of 10 hectares of olive farmland in Spain are not irrigated, according to the COAG farmers’ union.

With the rise in temperatures, 80 percent of Andalusia’s unirrigated olive tree plantations may no longer be suitable to grow olives, or at least some varieties of the crop, it added.

The quality could also decline because farmers will have to pick the fruit early, before it is fully mature, the union said in a recent report.

Some farmers may be tempted to start irrigating their plots, but this would deplete stretched reservoirs even further.

Agriculture already consumes up to four-fifths of Spain’s water resources, said Jimenez.

“Not all land can be irrigated,” she said.

Back at his farm, Elvira is all too aware of the problem.

“We can’t exhaust resources, everyone needs water. Honestly, I don’t know how we are going to manage,” he said.

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