Canada wants to standardize charging ports on devices. Here’s what to know

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Tired of carrying around a ton of different cables for your electronic devices? That may soon be a thing of the past if Canada goes through with forcing technology companies to adopt a standard port.

The move, if acted upon, would follow in the footsteps of the European Union, which passed legislation in 2022 forcing a standard USB-C charging port for all devices by the end of 2024, and for laptops by spring 2026.

In the recently revealed federal budget, the Liberal government says it will work with international partners and other stakeholders to “explore implementing a standard charging port in Canada, with the aim of lowering costs for Canadians and reducing electronic waste.”

But will doing away with the bevy of charging cables actually save consumers money and benefit the environment? Global News spoke with experts to find out.

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Little impact on e-waste, expert says

Josh Lepawsky, a professor at the Memorial University of Newfoundland who specializes in e-waste, told Global News that the measure would have little impact on the environment, saying that the amount of waste generated by cables is of little consequence compared to what is generated during the manufacturing of electronics.

“It’s not going to be nothing, but it’s not going to be substantive,” he said, referring to the amount of e-waste from cables saved if the standard is passed.

“Far more waste has occurred in manufacturing long before you and I have even purchased our devices.”

According to the EU, disposed of chargers account for about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually within its jurisdiction. However, in 2019, the EU generated 12 mega-tonnes of e-waste, according to a report Lepawsky highlighted, making the cables account for less than 0.1 per cent of the total e-waste.

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Lepawsky said the relatively small amount of e-waste that cables make up doesn’t mean that the government shouldn’t move forward with standardizing charging ports, but it keeps its impact in perspective.

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Could it save you money?

London, Ont.-based tech analyst Carmi Levy told Global News that companies make a lot of money selling proprietary cables, and creating a universal standard could save consumers money from not having to buy different variations. The EU has said that having a standard charger could save Europeans 250 million euros a year (over CAD$350 million), which would equal 0.55 euros a person.

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The money-making ability of the cables is one reason tech company Apple is opposing the rule, according to Levy, although the company has said that having to use a standard port could hamper innovation.

As for whether governments are overstepping their boundaries trying to enforce a standard port, Levy noted that government-issued standards are not new, pointing to the standard wall outlet plug that was decided on by governments — they have simply fallen behind when it comes to a standard charging port for devices.

“Government has always played an integral role in terms of standards for consumer products,” he said. “This is no different … the government is making up for lost time here in Canada.”

Will it happen?

Levy told Global News that it would be very simple for the Canadian government to enforce the standard by following the same formula as the EU. By passing the legislation, it would be illegal for any company to sell a product without using the standard port within the jurisdiction.

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Apple could potentially sue the government or decide not to sell in Canada, but Levy said that would be ill-advised considering the global trends are moving toward standardization. Brazil and India are also exploring a standard charging port, which could influence the Asian and South/Central American markets as well, according to Levi.

He predicts if it does happen in Canada, Apple would fall in line. The tech company did not respond to Global News’ request for comment by the time of publication.

However, the move by the Canadian government could end up being a moot point, Levy said, if tech companies are moving to USB-C anyway thanks to the EU legislation. He said there are already rumours Apple is incorporating the port type into the design of its next iPhone.

There is also the potential for tech companies to do away with charging ports altogether and go completely wireless, which wouldn’t violate the EU’s law, he noted. Governments could then potentially create wireless standards for companies to follow.

“Despite ongoing debate on whether (standardization) is a good or bad thing, it is inevitable,” Levy said. “The dominoes are beginning to fall.”

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