(CNN) — Apple has finally removed its Lightning charging port: the iPhone 15 relies on a connector from chargers compatible with products that are not from the company. Which means one less cable taking up space on your desk, something you no longer have to worry about when packing suitcases for travel.
However, the move — which was accelerated by a European regulatory order issued last year — is largely symbolic, and comes years after most other devices converted their charging port to USB-C. It will do little to reduce the mountains of electronic waste accumulating around the world.
“I would classify the EU-Apple law as an evolution rather than a revolution,” said Marian Cherto, professor of industrial environmental management at the Yale School of the Environment.
When the European Commission approved the measure last year, it cited two reasons: First, everyone agrees that it is very annoying to have so many cables lying around. Second, having one charger for all devices (whether they’re made by Apple, Samsung, Garmin, or something else) would “drastically reduce e-waste.”
Apple initially resisted, of course, partly because selling additional Lightning cables made it a lot of money. But he also stressed that the waste argument was misleading and that the promise of wireless charging would render the cable issue moot. (However, the company eventually said it would abide by the rules for shared cable.)
Discontinuing your Lightning cable could lead to a wave of e-waste in the near term, as iPhone users toss useless Lightning cables into the drawer. (Which is not recommended, to be clear. You should try to find a local e-waste recycling center or Best Buy store for a more environmentally friendly option.)
However, overall, the impact on global e-waste mountains is likely to be minimal.
About 66 million tons of e-waste are generated every year, says Rüdiger Kohr, director of the Sustainable Courses Program at the United Nations University. He said the charging cables weigh “a few hundred thousand tons.”
“When we look at the net numbers, it’s almost nothing,” Kohr said. “However, we believe it is a very important step in making people aware of the problem we face.”
E-waste is a growing problem that has not yet entered the public consciousness. Most of it ends up where it shouldn’t (in junk cabinets and drawers), which means more materials like copper, gold and platinum have to be extracted to produce new products.
“You can make money with it, but there are a lot of steps involved,” Kohr says. “This is incomprehensible to the consumer compared to all other waste streams.”
She said that nearly 80% of all e-waste generated worldwide is not properly treated.
Whether the EU rule actually reduces waste is irrelevant if you can pressure Apple and other manufacturers to help close the loop by making it easier to refurbish and recycle old products.
To Apple’s credit, it has been “a pioneer in extracting rare earth metals from the reuse pile to recover these expensive materials,” says Cherto, noting that the company said last year that it reuses more than two-thirds of the aluminum it produces. I was in need. “Today, waste experts consider ‘reuse’ to often be a better route than recycling, as more can be recovered.”
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