Senators explore USB-C common charge standard in U.S.

The bottom of an Apple iPhone with an exposed Lightning connector port.
(Stock image, Graphic by The Desk)

If a group of federal lawmakers have their way, the United States may have a national charging standard.

In a letter sent to Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, a trio of Senators urged the agency to “develop a comprehensive plan that will protect both consumers and the environment by addressing the lack of a common U.S. charging standard.”

The letter — sent by Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts — fell short of requiring the U.S. Commerce Department to set a new standard, nor did it demand that the agency move to create one.

The suggestion came after lawmakers in the European Union recently affirmed a move that requires electronic manufacturers to install USB-C ports as the standard for power and charging, a move that is likely to impact Apple and other companies that prefer proprietary components.

“The EU has wisely acted in the public interest by taking on powerful technology companies over this consumer and environmental issue,” the lawmaker trio wrote in their letter. “The United States should do the same.”

The lawmakers said a standard charging port could help eliminate electronic waste by allowing consumers to use one cable to power and charge a number of devices, though it cited no data that a common power port standard would do anything to reduce electronic waste.

“It’s an important step, but it’s definitely not solving the e-waste problem,” Ruediger Kuehr, the manager of the Sustainable Cycles Programme (SCYCLE), told The Verge in an interview, adding that chargers only comprise about 0.1 percent of the nearly 54 million metric tons of electronic waste generated every year.

Lawmakers in the European Union said chargers make up 11,000 tons of e-waste annually — a data fact that has been repeated by news media organizations without scrutiny and was ultimately used as leverage in the request letter from the three senators this week — but an expert on the subject said the amount of waste chargers comprise is actually “very tiny.”

“In terms of this being presented as a solution — even a partial solution to e-waste — I think is a stretch,” the researcher, Josh Lepawsky, said in an interview.

Though it may not help the environment in any meaningful way — and, in fact, could contribute to global waste as people trash their unused proprietary chargers for USB-C ones — it would at least give consumers the peace of mind that their one charging cable could power any number of new electronic devices.

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