The European Union has adopted new regulations regarding batteries that could extend the lifespan of gadgets, cut back on electronic waste, and generally improve sustainability.
While the regulations apply to all sorts of batteries and covers things like waste collection and use of recycled materials, one section has been gathering a lot of attention: smartphones and similar gadgets with built-in batteries will need to make it easy for end users (ie: you) to remove and replace those batteries by 2027.
There was a time when most smartphones had user-replaceable batteries. Just pop off the back cover, take out the battery and you can replace it with a new or freshly charged battery. These days there are only a handful of phones that make it that easy.
Instead, most have batteries that are stuffed into a case that’s difficult to open without specialized tools. Often those batteries are also held in place with sticky adhesive that needs to be melted or cut before you can remove the battery.
While I’m not sure that the new regulations will lead to a Renaissance in phones with batteries that can be replaced without tools (after all, it’s harder to make a truly waterproof phone in this style), the regulations do spell out that in order to be considered “removable,” a device needs to have a battery that “can be removed with the use of commercially available tools and without requiring the use of specialized tools, unless they are provided free of charge, or proprietary tools, thermal energy, or solvents to disassemble it.”
In other words, it’s okay if you need a screwdriver to replace a battery. But if you need an unusually-shaped one, the manufacturer needs to provide it free of charge. And difficult-to-remove adhesive sounds like a no go.
The rules only apply to the European Union, which means that phone makers could theoretically continue to sell phones with nearly impossible-to-remove markets in other countries. But the EU is a pretty big market, and rather than design different phones for different markets, it’s likely that most phone makers who do business in Europe will end up complying with the new regulations.
The rechargeable batteries used in phones and other gadgets have a limited number of charge cycles and tend to degrade over time so that a phone that battery life shortens over time. That means that batteries often give out before other components, and you may find yourself looking to replace an otherwise still-usable smartphone or tablet because of a worn-down battery.
Regulations like those adopted by the EU could allow you to keep using your existing device for longer by just replacing the battery rather than the whole gadget. You know, unless you crack the screen, break the USB port, or end up with some other fault that cannot easily be repaired.
But a growing number of phone makers have also begun offering spare parts and repair guides for folks looking to perform DIY repairs on out-of-warranty devices… partially due to pressure from the EU and other regions looking to adopt right to repair rules.
We first mentioned the new battery regulations last year when a draft agreement was created. Last month the European Parliament voted to approve those rules, and now that they’ve been adopted, the countdown to 2027 has begun ticking.
The regulations also included provisions related to batteries for electric vehicles, industrial products, lighting, electronic bikes and scooters, and other products and includes “end-of-life requirements” that include collection targets, targets for recovering lithium from waste batteries, and mandatory minimums for the amount of lithium, led, nickel, and cobalt to be used in certain types of batteries.