Apple may find some flexibility for the iPhone concerning new EU regulations requiring user-replaceable smartphone batteries, but these rules will likely lead to the demise of the most affordable devices.
EU requires user-replaceable batteries
Eu battery law : EU mandates user-replaceable batteries By 2027, manufacturers must incorporate easy-to-replace batteries within smartphones and tablets, as per EU requirements. These batteries should be “removable and replaceable by the end-user, allowing sufficient time for operators to adapt their product designs to meet this demand,” states the EU.
The regulation’s primary purpose is not to create extra work for product designers or upset companies like Apple by forcing them to redesign devices. Instead, its goal is to accomplish key sustainability targets, such as enhancing battery recycling, extending device lifespans, improving battery standards, and establishing a circular economy that optimizes the use of valuable minerals like cadmium.
Nominations are open for the 2024 Best Places to Work in IT As part of the effort to create a circular economy, the legislation introduces “battery passports,” which will track the origin of materials used in batteries, acting as an additional deterrent against conflict mineral usage. The law also holds battery and device manufacturers responsible for providing efficient renewal, replacement, and recycling programs.
Although the implementation may seem burdensome, most of these requirements appear acceptable in light of the growing emphasis on sustainable manufacturing—even for a company like Apple.
The era of affordable smartphones has come to an end.
In general, Apple is already implementing most of the EU’s required sustainable practices. The company audits conflict minerals in its devices and has made significant commitments to recycling gadgets. Apple also aims to create a circular manufacturing economy, mirroring the EU’s aspirations; the green slides displayed at their product launches indicate similar objectives.
However, many low-cost smartphones on the market lack efficient recycling programs, and their components might sometimes contain minerals sourced from conflict zones. This is why they are inexpensive and why their lower-quality batteries often have shorter lifespans compared to iPhones.
iPhones are popular in the global second-hand market because they continue to function even as battery power diminishes. Moreover, they receive software and security updates without requiring complicated installation processes. Apple has designed these devices to last and has recycling procedures in place – though the EU legislation implies that these might need to be expanded.
The new regulations effectively signal the end for poorly-constructed electronic devices with subpar batteries. This change should help reduce electronic waste being discarded in landfills when these devices fail within a few months.
Additional regulations include the following expectations for manufacturers:
- By the end of 2027, companies must collect 63% of portable batteries that would usually end up in landfills, increasing to 73% by the end of 2030.
- Waste battery lithium recovery must reach 50% by 2027 and 80% by 2031.
- Batteries must comprise a specific minimum amount of recycled materials, such as 16% cobalt.
What about the small print?
It is possible that Apple may not have to alter the iPhone design due to these regulations. A German news report suggests that iPhones with permanent batteries will not be banned as long as the battery is of high quality (maintaining at least 80% capacity after 1,000 cycles). The report also proposes exceptions for waterproof devices.
While it is challenging to confirm the German claims after scrutinizing the dense EU document, there seems to be flexibility for devices designed with high-performance and durability standards. For instance, iPhones might be exempt due to Apple’s effective repair program. Apple could also make minor design changes in future models, enabling tech-savvy users to replace their batteries through self-service repair programs.
Another possible exemption involves waterproofing. Apple’s plan to develop fully integrated, sealed devices with wireless charging would result in waterproof products. By improving battery health and expanding existing recycling and repair programs, Apple may adhere to the regulations while supporting the eco-friendly, circular manufacturing goals they share with the EU.
More information should be available by 2027.
Manufacturers without Apple’s advantages—or demonstrated commitment to sustainable manufacturing—will need to make significant changes to their business models beyond product design. This is why it seems the age of low-cost Android devices is coming to an end.
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