Stricter rules from Brussels on the components of smartphones

Science and Technology - September 19, 2022


Phones and mobile devices will need to have more precise efficiency labels

According to the Financial Times, the EU has initiated procedures for changes related to the requirements for smartphones and mobile devices in general, to ensure a longer life cycle for technological devices and avert the risk of planned obsolescence which is predicted by most of the mobiles companies.

The European commissioner for the internal market, Thierry Breton, will present the proposed directive already after the summer break. The French commissioner explained how necessary legislation must be in this regard to go against the unhealthy habit, imposed by the production companies in recent years, of changing smartphones every 3 years at the most. This duration of technological devices is not admissible, neither for a mere economic question, nor for the care of the environment which can no longer be considered a marginal foresight in the world of mass production.

The request by the European Commission provides that at least 15 components, including batteries and other essential elements for the functioning of smartphones, can remain available as spare parts for at least 5 years from the date of release on the market of the related object, in addition to a battery life of at least 500 full recharges without the deterioration signs currently expected to increase the sale of new batteries or the user’s purchase of a new smartphone. The chargers then, according to the new directives, must be, by 2024, compatible with virtually all smartphones already on the market, so as to avoid the accumulation of such accessories that are difficult to dispose of.

Each smartphone must have an energy efficiency label, like those already used for most household appliances on the market, in which the minimum battery life and the resistance tested to falls must be indicated, so as to avoid nasty surprises for buyers with a technological device that exceeds, as is often the case, thousands of Euros and that may have operating problems already after the first months of use. The measures under study will include reliability, ease of disassembly to facilitate the replacement of individual elements, incentives for repairs, access to critical spare parts and increased recycling.

The intention of Brussels will also be linked to the eradication of unfair commercial practices, extending the blacklist of practices prohibited in the EU market. With the new regulations, therefore, the manufacturers of technological devices will no longer be able to omit the possible presence of technical characteristics, such as software and internal applications, designed to deliberately degrade the device to facilitate its replacement. Ecological qualities of the products cannot be more ostentatious if not properly tested. They will no longer be able to exhibit sustainability-related trademarks if not recognized by the European community and if they are not justified by specific laboratory tests and they will not be able to omit the possibility that the device may stop working with the use of non-original spare parts.

The new regulations will not only have as their objective that relating to the duration of electronic devices but, by increasing their life cycle, they will help to reduce CO2 emissions by about 10 million tons, a result that is only possible, for example, with the elimination of 5 million cars off the road.

In convincing Europe to tighten up on the regulations related to the possibility of regenerating smartphones, there is also the increasing trend to buy refurbished mobile phones, or second-hand devices that are put back on the market after being thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and after having a series of so specific checks that they can allow the company, that sells them, to provide a new guarantee that can even exceed the typical 2 years of a new product. The choice of a refurbished mobile phone has been the best choice for an ever-growing user, even in Italy, instead of buying an object that would otherwise have cost up to 3 times as much. The proliferation of websites that offer refurbished mobile phones at relatively very advantageous prices has allowed an assessment of the market for second hand smartphones, from now to 2024, of about 65 billion euros and by 2027 it could grow up to 10% more.

According to the study by the website Certideal, specialized in the sale of refurbished technological products, the market is also expanding in Italy and regions like Lombardy, Liguria and Lazio have the largest number of customers between 20 and 70 years of age, who have chosen refurbished phones with a good average of satisfaction. Compared to 2020, in fact, in the just mentioned 3 regions, spending on refurbished appliances doubled in 2021 and is on the rise.

Another relevant fact is that the brands that undergo the most “regenerations” are the most renowned ones also because they certainly have most of the market and are chosen above all for a question of social acceptance by the youngest, who have learned, over time, to accept the eventuality that their fashionable technological object is a second-hand object but apparently completely new.

With the battle against planned obsolescence made by EU, technology manufacturers all over the world will have to adapt to rules that will finally be able to guarantee transparency and fairness to the average user who, otherwise, would find himself having to manage unexpected expenses for an instrument, like the smartphone, which has rightly become essential in everyday life. Currently in every European home or almost, the drawers are full of accessories, whether they are corded chargers or earphones or the mobile phones themselves, which will no longer have a reason to exist and which must, therefore, be disposed in one way or another and without the certainty that the procedure is carried out according to the law. The primary objective is the ability to recycle every possible element of your mobile device to prevent it from lasting less than the time necessary to amortize the cost. The possibility of asking manufacturers to create objects that can be used with the same accessories, even if they are of different brands, will certainly not be accepted willingly but it is now necessary to offer a consumer economy that can be defined as truly eco-friendly.

If smartphones and tablets, as well as older generation smartwatches and mobile phones, had the possibility of been regenerated in case of damage or hardware problem, with the use of spare parts always available and recyclable, the energy consumption necessary for their production and use, would be reduced by a third. Some European countries, such as France, have already initiated procedures for adapting to the latest ecological standards related to technology and the pressure on biggest companies is already considerable. In Italy, the issue has just been taken into consideration but the increase in the market of refurbished appliances bodes well. Italy is currently in eleventh place in the world, among the nation most dependent on the use of smartphones and first in Europe, with a market of net growth despite the decline in the global technology market due to the pandemic and the lack of supply due to the war in Ukraine. This data suggests that Italy could be the first nation to benefit from such an important change in the production and marketing of mobile devices and, local companies, could take advantage of the new international business opportunities that the new regulations could introduce.

Technology is currently one of the main economic sectors in the world and production optimization should be a key element in defining the new era. Europe is promoting a change that could be epochal for the entire global mobile device market.

Author: Alessandro Fiorentino