Gadgets

A universal laptop charger standard is coming — but may never be used

To reduce e-waste and save consumers some cash, a Switzerland-based standards group is pushing for the adoption of a universal laptop charger.

But it’s unlikely laptop vendors like Apple, Dell, and HP will play along.

The International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) on Monday announced plans to publish a technical specification for a universal charger early next year. It’ll cover aspects like the connector and plug, as well as safety, interoperability, performance, and environmental considerations, according to a press release.

The IEC thinks a universal laptop charger could cut down on the total amount of charger-related e-waste, which the organization pegs at more than a half million tons annually.

“A single power supply covering a wide range of notebook computers is the next step in lowering e-waste and its impact on our planet,” said IEC general secretary and CEO Frans Vreeswijk in a statement.

Two years ago, the IEC helped bring about a widely used standard for mobile phone chargers, but the prevalence of micro-USB connectors was part of that success story.

It’ll be tougher to create a popular standard for laptop chargers, which come in a wider variety of shapes and sizes (since they cater to a broader range of power requirements). Plus, some companies view their chargers as a defining part of their brand; they’re unlikely to modify those proprietary designs — and the dollars that they bring in — to comply with the IEC’s standard. (We’re looking at you, Apple.)

But it’d be great if they did. Beyond the obvious environmental benefits, there are clear advantages to universal chargers: they’re easier (and cheaper) to replace, you can use someone else’s charger if you forget your own, and you can hold on to your old charger when you buy a new device.

Hopefully, the laptop makers can come together to work on a solution here — and the IEC’s upcoming tech spec sounds like a rational starting point.

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