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TECH

What you need to know about the EU’s plan for a uniform phone charger

The European Union has approved a new regulation that would force tech companies to use a standard charger for mobile phones and electronic devices. What does this mean?

What you need to know about the EU's plan for a uniform phone charger
The European Union will require all manufacturers use the same USB Type C for charging ports in certain devices. (Photo by Solen Feyissa on Unsplash)

The European Parliament has approved an agreement establishing a single charging solution for frequently used small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. The law will make it mandatory for specific devices that are rechargeable via a wired cable to be equipped with a USB Type-C port.

The rules have been debated for a while, and the announcement of the agreement has caused controversy, especially among tech companies and enthusiasts. US giant Apple has repeatedly lobbied against the standardisation, saying it halts innovation.

The EU says that the new rules will lead to more re-use of chargers and “help consumers save up to €250 million a year on unnecessary charger purchases”. Disposed of and unused chargers are estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually, the bloc says.

So, what exactly are the changes?

Which products will be affected?

According to the European Parliament, the new rules are valid for small and medium-sized portable electronic devices. This includes mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, earbuds, digital cameras, headphones and headsets, handheld videogame consoles and portable speakers that are rechargeable via a wired cable.

Laptops will also have to be adapted, the EU says.

Those devices will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C port regardless of their manufacturer.

When will the changes come?

For most devices, the changes are set to come by autumn of 2024. However, the date is not yet set because the regulations need to go to other proceedings within the EU bureaucracy.

After the summer recess, The EU’s Parliament and Council need to formally approve the agreement before publication in the EU Official Journal. It enters into force 20 days after publication, and its provisions start to apply after 24 months, hence the “autumn 2024” expectation.

Rules for laptops are a bit different, and manufacturers will have to adapt their products to the requirements by 40 months after the entry into force of the laws.

Where are the rules valid?

The rules will be valid for products sold or produced in the European Union and its 27 member countries. But, of course, they will likely affect manufacturers and promote more considerable scale changes.

The USB-C cable, with the rounded edges, will be the standard for charging in the EU (Photo by مشعال بن الذاهد on Unsplash)

Why the uniform USB Type-C?

The bloc said the uniform charger is part of a broader EU effort to make products more sustainable, reduce electronic waste, and make consumers’ lives easier.

“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device”, EU Parliament’s rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba said.

USB Type-C is a standard of charging that has been around for a while but still is one of the best options currently in the market. Also known as USB-C, it allows for reliable, inexpensive, and fast charging. A USB-C port can also be input or output, meaning that it can both send and receive charges and data.

Unlike other ports, it can be the same on both ends of the wire (making it easier and more universal in its use). It can also power devices and sends data much faster.

USB-C can also be used for video and audio connections, so some external monitors can charge your laptop and show your screen simultaneously with the same cable.

What criticism is there?

The project is not without criticism, most vocally from US tech giant Apple, a company that famously has its own charging standard, the “lightning” connection.

Apple claims that forcing a standardisation will prevent innovation, holding all companies to the same technology instead of allowing for experimentation. Still, Apple itself has been swapping to USB-C. Its iPads have already dropped the lightning standard. Its newer laptops can now be charged with the MagSafe proprietary connector and USB-C.

Apple iPhones are still charged with the company’s lightning ports – or wirelessly (Photo by Brandon Romanchuk on Unsplash)

The company’s popular earbuds and peripherals (including keyboards and mice) all charge with lightning. And, of course, the iPhone, Apple’s smartphone, also uses the company’s connection for charging.

While there have been rumours that Apple is working on new iPhones with USB-C connection (though definitely not for the next launch this year’s), the company could go away with wired charging altogether. Instead, like many tech manufacturers, Apple is improving its wireless charging solutions, even creating products dedicated to its MagSafe charging.

It won’t be completely free from the EU regulation if it does that, though. This is because the rules approved by the EU also allow the European Commission to develop so-called “delegated acts” concerning wireless charging. The delegated acts are faster processes that can be applied directly without being put to the vote.

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ENVIRONMENT

The rules for foraging for fruit and mushrooms in France’s forests

The end of summer in rural France - even the overheated, overdry one we’ve just had - heralds the start of foraging season.

The rules for foraging for fruit and mushrooms in France’s forests

There are, it’s true, few things nicer than tucking into a huge mushroom omelette with fungi, or a fruit pie made with fresh berries that you have foraged for yourself in nearby woodland. 

But there are a few things you need to know before you get started.

Obviously, only eat something if you’re sure that you know what it is – many of France’s fruits, flowers and herbs are toxic to varying degrees. If you’re foraging for mushrooms once the season starts, be aware that pharmacists offer a mushroom-identification service so that you can check that your haul is safe to eat.

But even if you’re an experienced forager, there are certain rules to be aware of in France.

The key point is that every forest has an owner, and all the fruits of these forests belong to someone. 

According to French law (Article 547 of the Code Civil to be precise) mushrooms, fruit and berries legally belong to the owner of the land on which they grow.

The actual wording of the law is: “The natural or industrial fruits of the earth, the civil fruits, the growth of animals, belong to the owner by right of accession”. 

That means you need the permission of the landowner before you start picking. Entering private land without an invitation is trespassing, and could land you in court. 

If you are caught picking fruit or mushrooms on private land, you can face fines of between €750 and €45,000 and up to three years in prison – rising to €75,000 and 5 years’ imprisonment in the event of aggravating circumstances, such as getting into a scrap with the irate landowner.

This includes windfall. Article 673 adds: “The fruit that have fallen naturally from these branches belong to [the owner].”

So, if you don’t know who owns the land, it’s best to keep to public spaces such as national parks and woodland that are open to the public. 

In areas owned by the state, you can collect up a limited amount of wild produce – usually five litres (around 2 kilogrammes), and described as being “for family use”. 

Exceeding that limit leaves the picker subject to a fine ranging from €750 to €45,000 and up to three years’ imprisonment.

Be aware, local authorities might have passed additional rules to protect local inhabitants’ rights – especially on land that is owned by the commune rather than the State. In commune-owned areas picking is reserved for those who live or have property in the commune.

Note, too, that it is illegal to sell-on any produce you have foraged.

After that, pick only fruit growing above waist height to avoid fox urine, wash all your produce before you cook it, and take your mushrooms to a pharmacist for identification.

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