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Europe proposing universal mobile charger as solution to reduce electronic waste

Posted at 7:40 PM, Feb 05, 2020
and last updated 2020-02-05 19:40:31-05

As technology gets better, most electronics become outdated pretty quickly, causing additional waste of metals used in electronics.

Efforts are underway in the European Union to reduce waste by requiring cellphones to have the same charging device.

In the United States, private companies are working to reclaim electronic waste.

“When it comes to end of life, we can reclaim those precious metals, we can refine those materials,” Pete Mikulin, CEO of 3R Technology Solutions Inc., said. He sees a lot of electronic waste come through his doors -- about 250,000 pounds worth.

“The federal government and the state governments have mandated that we can’t landfill electronics by law,” he explained.

What can’t be fixed by one of the workers to be donated or sold, becomes scrap.

“It’s mainly eBay, and then we have some stuff over here we sell on Craigslist,” one of the workers said.

The scrap is then stripped by other companies for precious metals, like copper.

Boxes of old wires and cell phones line the shelves, with more coming in every day. “Probably do two of these a day, 1600 pounds approximately,” Mikulin said as he pointed to the boxes of wires. That’s about 6,000 to 8,000 pounds of adapters and chargers coming in to this one facility each month.

A few years ago, the European Union ruled a common charger should be developed for all mobile phones to reduce waste, cost, and hassle. As of January, the EU said companies will be forced to do this. The European Commission will submit a proposal by fall.

But some companies -- like Apple -- think this could create even more e-waste.

“Regulations that would drive conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones freeze innovation rather than encourage it," Apple said in a statement on Jan. 31.

Apple claims the change will greatly inconvenience users. It’s also concerned about rendering its own cords useless.

“It’s a great idea in theory, but I don’t know how you could accomplish such a thing because there’s so many different manufacturers, there’s so many different products,” Mikulin said. “I don’t see something like that happening in the next decade. Not in the U.S.”

About 20 percent, or 10 million tons, of all e-waste was recycled in 2016, according to the United Nations.

Mikulin said there’s a simple solution. “More educating to people at the household level that those things can’t go in the trash."

As for chargers and cords, the best option right now is to resell or donate them.

“If we had one adapter like you were talking about, we could most likely re-purpose those a lot easier,” Mikulin said.