Unnecessary Cell Phone Chargers: Finally, a Green(er) Solution

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A brand-new initiative could save up to 50,000 tonnes in useless cellphone charger materials. And we could eliminate the messy “charging station” forever.

Cellphones are so ubiquitous and widespread that we tend to not think about them so much. It takes something slightly revolutionary like Apple’s iPhone to come along before we all get excited again, but otherwise these nearly-constant presences in our lives have become very much like the land telephones of old. We use them quickly and with skill, and until something goes wrong we don’t give too much time over to pondering their existence. But there’s something incredibly wasteful about cellphones: not just the phones themselves, but the chargers. Read on, and find out how a new initiative is about to change all of that.

Where do our old phones go when we’re finished with them, when our contract has given us a shiny new model or our previous phone has simply become old and out of date? I can tell you where my last two phones are (in shoeboxes in my closet), but before that I’m sure I had at least a couple more, and I have no idea where they might be residing. Not to mention their batteries, boxes, and chargers.


An Unlikely Place to Go Green: The Charger

Using greener technology in the manufacture of commercial devices is one thing (Apple is touting this heavily in the marketing of their new macbooks, for example), but one new initiative is taking things in a different direction: a Universal Charging Solution. Think about every cellphone/mobile phone in the world. Each one of them has a charger. Millions of these chargers are plugged in when they don’t need to be, some even permanently. Every old cellphone has its accompanying charger, too. Every new phone we buy needs a new little brick to pull power from the grid.

But what if this weren’t the case? What if, back when cellphones first started to make their giant market advances on the way we communicate, the manufacturers had gotten together and decided to make a universal charging standard? To do away with proprietary power supplies, ensuring that anyone could use anyone else’s charger to get their phone going without worrying about compatibility.


Cell Phone Chargers Make Money

We all know this didn’t happen. Part of the reason was profit: cellphone manufacturers can sell first-party chargers at a premium, and when you have a specific phone that needs a specific charger, you’re stuck buying that or ordering something third-party off eBay. While third-party solutions are generally fine, manufacturers often go out of their way to suggest that non-authorized parts could damage your phone, thus trying to ensure you buy their ‘authorized’ (and expensive) products exclusively.

But what if all this just didn’t exist? It’s finally about to happen, thanks to the GSMA and the efforts of 17 leading mobile operators and manufacturers. They’ve set a target of 2012 for the rollout of this new standard, and have decided to use Micro USB as the interface (a good idea, since it means that with a simple cable any future cellphone can be charged from a PC or wall socket).

Where this is really important, though, is in the reduction of environmental impact. As the universal chargers take hold, more and more cellphones can be released and purchased without included chargers, eventually (presumably) leading to a great drop in the amount of manufactured chargers. With one universal type of charger working for any phone, the accessory will be so ubiquitous that it won’t be necessary to include it with every new phone, as most people will already have one.


Tonnes and Tonnes and Tonnes of Charger Bricks

According to the GSMA, this has the potential to save up to 51,000 tonnes in duplicate manufactured chargers, which is by all accounts a rather massive number. While the reality will likely be somewhat diminished, it’s a fine example of one corner of the market creating massive amounts of waste where there could be far, far less. We’d all love to have seen an initiative like this much sooner, but later is always better than never.

There is also news that the European Commissioner for Enterprise, Gunther Verheugen, has put forward a much more ambitious plan, requiring manufacturers of mp3 players and digital cameras to also adhere to the standard, which would have two huge benefits: not only would it radically reduce waste, but it would completely eliminate the need for that recent technological side effect, the charging station. A few months ago I summarized some of the various charging station options available here, but a universal standard would eliminate this little scourge from our lives forever. Cellphones are one thing, but getting all devices to function on the same wavelength is a tall order indeed. While it will surely be resisted by the manufacturers, one never knows. Stranger things have happened.

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