Experts warn of e-waste issues over iPhone charging port switch

The tech giant is expected to announce the new iPhone will come with a USB-C port for the first time, to fall in line with upcoming EU rules.

Martyn Landi
Tuesday 12 September 2023 02:45 BST
New European Union rules mandate that small and medium-sized electronic devices must have a universal connector by the end of 2024 (PA)
New European Union rules mandate that small and medium-sized electronic devices must have a universal connector by the end of 2024 (PA)

The new EU rules which are likely to see Apple change the charging port on the new iPhone could cause “mountains” of e-waste, some industry experts have warned.

The technology giant is expected to unveil the latest iPhone 15 range on Tuesday evening, with the line-up widely reported to feature a USB-C port in place of Apple’s proprietary Lightning port for the first time.

The change has been sparked by new European Union rules, which mandate that small and medium-sized electronic devices must have a universal connector by the end of 2024 – as part of long-term standardisation efforts to cut costs and make life easier for consumers.

Last year, Apple confirmed it would comply by the new rules, but suggested it was not entirely happy with the decision, raising e-waste and innovation concerns caused by forcing the adoption of a single cable on manufacturers at the expense of other longstanding connectors.

The EU has argued that the change will reduce e-waste in the long-term as consumers will be able to use one cable across a wide range of devices, but ahead of the iPhone’s expected switch to USB-C, some experts have raised fears about the short-term impact of millions of Apple Lightning cables suddenly becoming obsolete.

“The likely shift from iPhone’s charging port shifting from Lightning to USB-C will be marketed as a key consumer benefit, which is a paradox after Apple pushed back on this standard for many years,” Thomas Husson, principal analyst at Forrester, said.

“It will be interesting to see how Apple manages the transition given potential massive e-waste and the fact it has created a significant accessory ecosystem around Lightning cables.”

Ed Hoppitt, a senior director at cloud computing firm VMware, which has previously announced efforts to reduce levels of e-waste across the industry, said more education around responsively disposing of electronic waste was needed for the public.

“Whilst the shift (to USB-C) will no doubt be beneficial for consumers in the long-run as it claims to save up to £213M a year on unnecessary charger purchases, there is a big short-term issue staring us in the face – mountains and mountains of e-waste,” he said.

“The yearly release of new devices and the consumer demand to have the next big thing, already contributes to a colossal volume of electronic waste building up all over the world.

“But this new iteration of iPhones poses an even more significant problem. Since the lightning cable was introduced with the iPhone 5 in 2012, countless Apple phones, devices, headphones, adapters, and other accessories have used it. All are now obsolete.

“This waste is often shipped to countries beyond our Western peripherals, piling high while awareness of the carbon footprint remains a threat to society.

“With e-waste figures in the EU equating to approximately 16kg per capita, and a staggering 23.9kg in the UK, we urgently need the industry to introduce more initiatives to educate consumers disposing of devices, cables and accessories more responsibly.

“If the technology industry fails to take affirmative action and improve the means of disposal of this end-of-life equipment, then we’ll see a sharp increase in the amount of lightning port-based technology being sent to landfill over the next few years.”

As well as new iPhones, Apple is expected to unveil new generations of its Apple Watch and AirPod earphones at its live event on Tuesday night.

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