Smartphone manufacturers supplying the European Union will face strict requirements for spare parts and longer battery life, according to draft proposals published by Brussels on Wednesday.
The European Commission said that at least 15 different components must be available for at least five years from the date the smartphone was put on the market and that batteries must withstand at least 500 full charges without deteriorating to less than 83 percent of their capacity. .
The phones will also have to display an energy efficiency label, similar to those used in washing machines and dishwashers, which will show the battery’s endurance and other characteristics such as resistance to drops.
The plan is the latest Brussels directive targeting electronics manufacturers after introducing a requirement in June to use a standard charger by 2024, despite years of industry opposition, notably from Apple.
Extending the life cycle of all smartphones sold in the European Union by five years would save emissions equivalent to about 10 million tons of carbon dioxide — roughly the same as taking 5 million cars off the road, according to a study by the European Environment Office, a non-governmental organization.
The draft regulations, which also cover standard tablets and mobile phones, suggest that if the devices become more repairable and recyclable, they would cut the energy consumption involved in their production and use by a third.
“Devices are often replaced prematurely by users and, at the end of their useful life, are not sufficiently reused or recycled, wasting resources,” the document said.
A senior EU official has warned that products that do not meet sustainability requirements will “be taken out of the market”.
Smartphone makers argue that ordering more parts for availability simply increases plastic consumption.
“Potential overproduction, subsequent warehousing and destruction of spare parts will waste resources, reduce material efficiency and negative economic value and ultimately lead to higher costs for the consumer,” said Digital Europe, which represents the technology industry.
The director of sustainability at a large US company also argued that this would encourage overhaul: “Do we really need a back cover with a scratch on it to consider it waste?”
Some manufacturers, like iPhone maker Apple, have already ramped up their repair programs after years of lobbying by activists. Components including the battery, screen, SIM tray, cameras, and speakers can be repaired in the latest iPhones.
In April, it launched its first self-service iPhone repair scheme, renting or selling kits and parts to consumers in the US, and promising to expand into Europe in the coming months.
The new proposals also cover software, requiring manufacturers to provide security updates for five years after devices leave the market and functionality updates for three years. That could be a challenge for smartphone makers using Google’s Android operating system, which makes up the majority of European sales and typically receives only a few years of software updates.
Wayne Lam, a mobile analyst at CCS Insight, said regulations will be more difficult for smaller smartphone makers than giants like Apple and Samsung.
“It will be a burden on the lesser brands, and I’m sure we will start to see limitations on the smartphone models they will offer in the EU market,” he said. “The end effect could be to make smartphones less expensive or eliminate the ultra-low-cost category altogether.”
Environmental activists have called the regulations a “game changer” for the market.
Asking for better transparency about repairability and battery life will make it easier for consumers to compare models and “could mark the end of the era of single-use devices,” said Matteo Rama, program director at the Environmental Standards Alliance.
Brussels previously said its energy labels on light bulbs encouraged manufacturers to make more efficient products, and in an EU-wide survey, 79 percent of consumers said labels affected their purchases.
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