Policy initiative on standard chargers for mobile phones
The European Commission launched an initiative to harmonise common chargers for mobile phones and similar compatible devices.
Life Cycle Assessment results of sustainablySMART indicate, that the environmental impacts of chargers is much more related to the AC adapter than to the power and data cable. It is therefore of much higher importance to standardize the interface on the secondary side of the adapter than to standardize also the interface between the power / data cable and the end device. This approach requires logically a detachable cable.
The environmental benefit of harmonized common chargers however materializes only, if smartphones thereafter are sold without AC adapters (or without AC adapters and power / data cable), which is done only by very few small players in the market, such as Fairphone and SHIFT. Given that the interface of the adapters is already broadly harmonised by USB Types A and C the main policy challenge is to require or incentivize not to sell new adapters with every new smartphone.
Eco-design Policy Conclusion
The technology research of sustainablySMART is closely linked with the ongoing policy discussions on strengthening a Circular Economy. Some of the project findings could be mirrored by product specific requirements under the Ecodesign Directive. In a first Policy Brief research findings on modular design, critical raw materials and battery ageing are correlated with potential policy measures.
Reparability and remanufacturability of smartphones as well as component reuse and overall product lifetime is largely determined by design. The sustainablySMART project looks at the hardware aspects of smartphone designs found in the market. Indirect figures about smartphone repair give a clear indication, that approximately 1/3 of all repairs is related to the display, 1/6 to battery replacement and the remaining 50% to miscellaneous other parts and components. With this in mind disassembly processes to access key components can be evaluated. Fraunhofer IZM disassembled a range of smartphone models to analyse design features on the product and on the component level. On the product level two main design approaches (rigid metal backcover and rigid metal midframe) can be observed. Magnesium is a frequently used metal in smartphones, but also aluminum as either backcover or midframe. Regarding the disassembly sequence several smartphone models can be grouped together under the same “archetype”. In particular Samsung Galaxy models from Ace to S4 feature a pretty similar design and thus allow for a joint disassembly process with only minor model adaptations for individual process steps. On the product level two main design approaches (rigid metal backcover and rigid metal midframe) can be observed. Magnesium is a frequently used metal in smartphones, but also aluminum as either backcover or midframe. Regarding the disassembly sequence several smartphone models can be grouped together under the same “archetype”. In particular Samsung Galaxy models from Ace to S4 feature a pretty similar design and thus allow for a joint disassembly process with only minor model adaptations for individual process steps.
Reuse and remanufacture of components faces significant technical challenges as product design options hardly ever unambiguously favor all aspects of a circular economy: LCD modules are usually either fixed with full-area adhesives on the cover glass, making replacement of a broken cover glass very difficult, or the cover glass is attached to a frame only, but then frequently the LCD module is fixed with adhesive in this metal frame. Both options are critical for an easy separation of cover glass, LCD module and a potential LCD frame. Batteries used to be removable by the end-user in many models introduced to the market 3 to 5 years ago, but are now typically integrated in the smartphone, fixed with adhesives on the backcover or midframe. Integrating the battery facilitates a design, which is of a higher IP class (dust and water protection) and thus on the one hand reduces the risk of accidental product damages, but on the other hand is a barrier for replacing a battery with low remaining charge capacity. Thickness of the battery as seen in a comparison of the Galaxy S3 (removable) and Galaxy S7 (integrated) might remain the same with integrated ones. Actually the battery volume might even increase. Battery capacity also increased significantly. The power requirements of latest smartphones and standby times being a critical sales argument apparently lead to the design trend, that battery capacity (and thus volumetric size) is maximized, and volume is saved elsewhere, e.g. the mainboards in smartphones get smaller thanks to advanced integration and chip packaging technologies. Reliability concerns lead to an increasing use of epoxy underfiller for some major semiconductor packages, which actually hinders board-level repair and component reuse.
Read the full report here: