High-end cellphone makers cut out accessories to curb e-waste menace

Saturday May 18 2024

A picture of old electronic devices. PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK


If you have been using the same smartphone for the past two years, you may be unpleasantly surprised next time you go shopping for a new device, especially if you’re eyeing an upmarket brand or best products in the market.

Lately, high-end phone makers have changed packaging of new devices to exclude traditionally freely available accessories such as charging adapters and earphone sets to minimise electronic waste that is ravaging the world.

Apple and Samsung, which are the market leaders in premium brands, no longer include these accessories (previously free upon purchase of a device).

Read: Apple overtakes Samsung as top seller of smartphones

In fact, newer versions of iPhone and Samsung no longer even have a port for earphones, which they say will facilitate transition from the wired headsets, which are not as long-lasting as the recently introduced Bluetooth-enabled earbuds or pods.

“It is part of the move to minimise electronic waste globally. We are now rolling it out across East Africa as well,” said Anthony Hutia, Samsung East Africa, head of mobile experience division.


The increasing accumulation of electronic waste (e-waste) across the globe has become a concern for environmentalists and tech stakeholders, prompting a campaign to minimise production of unnecessary electronic equipment such as earphones, argues Mr Hutia.

A recent study by the International Telecommunications Union found that e-waste was an even bigger problem in the East Africa due to “limited recycling infrastructure.”

This has caused such waste material to accumulate rapidly in the region over the last few years.

Based on the study, there was an estimated 170,000 tonnes of e-waste in the region as of 2021, and they have been increasing at a rate of about 128,000 tonnes every year since. This is a quarter of the total annual volume of Kenya’s top export, tea, for instance.

Read: E-waste becomes a health concern in East Africa

According to the World Health Organisation, e-waste emit multiple toxins which have been linked to various diseases that affect the lungs and the nervous system, especially in children.

The limiting of these accessories is premised on the fact that new-generation devices are now all charged using the type-C cable, meaning that a single charger can work on a phone, laptop, power bank, ear pods, and other electronic devices.

In the EU, it is a statutory requirement to make all electronic device chargers of this type, a law enacted in 2022 to minimise electronic waste, and is now trickling down to the rest of the globe.

“Basically, e-waste minimisation is the key driver towards all new mobile devices being produced,” noted Charles Kimari, general manager for West Africa and Ethiopia at device-financier Watu.

But as the transition begins at high-end smartphone users, thousands of East Africans who still use feature phones and entry-level smartphone devices are left out, as these are still packed with full charging and earphone sets, adding to the e-waste pile.

Some phone brands also continue to pack these items, supposedly to net the customer base that’s unhappy with the shift to fewer accessories inclusion.

Last year, some phone makers, including Tecno, Oppo, and Samsung, introduced devices with biodegradable parts, a move also meant to reduce the environmental impact of electronic waste across the globe.

According to Mr Hutia, not all customers appreciate why manufacturers are now including just a type-C charging cable with the new devices, even though the e-waste menace is becoming an increasingly concerning problem.

“Educate/sensitise users that it’s not about the high cost, but it’s about having something that is sustainable and available for use for a long time,” he said.