Our tendency to treat consumer electronics as use and throw equipment has taken a toll on the environment, and it’s something that has manifested in the mountains of e-waste that have now lined landfills across India. To provide the environment with some respite and bring down the quantum of peripheral devices used, and disposed by citizens, the Ministry of Consumer Affairs is mulling the possibility of standardising a common charger type for mobile devices. As a result, consumers will no longer have to carry separate chargers for tablets, smartphones, laptops and portable electronic devices, as they can all be powered by a single charger.
The government is setting up three expert groups to look into the adoption of the single charger in smartphones and feature phones, wearable devices, as well as laptops and tablets, and a detailed report is to be submitted in two months. Last week, the Department of Consumer Affairs met with industry stakeholders regarding implementation of this policy. The Consumer Affairs Secretary remarked that India could initially explore shifting to two types of chargers including the USB-C type port. These developments are transpiring when the European Commission has mandated that all mobile devices across the EU must begin supporting the USB-C as a single charging standard by 2024.
Apart from reducing burden on consumers who are saddled with old chargers on purchasing a new product, the regulation also eases the load on manufacturers who no longer have to couple chargers with their products. The shift is an idea whose time has come. Last November, Prime Minister Modi had spoken about the concept of LiFe (Lifestyle for Environment), at the UN Climate Change of Conference (CoP) in Glasgow. The Centre’s move to adopt a single charger seems to be inspired by the PM’s call.
The environmental cost of rampant and unsafe disposal of e-waste has also come under the administration’s radar. India generated over 3,000 kilo tonnes of e-waste in 2019. Of this, just 30 kilo tonnes were formally collected for recycling by e-waste agencies. The Union Cabinet has also approved India’s updated Nationally Determined Contribution, as per which the nation has committed to reduce emission intensity of the GDP by 45% by 2030. Apart from mandating the single charger, a concern regarding electronics is the right to repair, which is gaining prominence globally.
It may be recalled that in 2020, an American tech behemoth was hauled to court in France and fined $27 mn for indulging in planned obsolescence activities. French prosecutors argued that the company was intentionally shortening the lifespan of the product with the intent of the customers replacing it. This was carried out by slowing down older smartphone models through software updates, although the company argued the slowdown was due to the diminished performance of the battery over time.
Many countries like the US, UK and EU states have recognised the right to repair as an important legislation. While the EU has mandated provision of spares to service personnel for a period of 10 years, Australia has set up repair cafes for volunteer repair personnel to share their expertise with laypersons.
In July this year, the Department of Consumer Affairs had also set up a committee to develop a right to repair framework in India. Makers of consumer electronics will need to share product details with customers so they can repair these products themselves or by third parties rather than depending on original manufacturers. The framework will cover smartphones, tablets, laptops, consumer durables, electronics, automobiles and farming equipment. Such a framework will empower consumers, cut down on product obsolescence rates, and also be a baby step towards ecologically responsible consumer behaviour.