Universal phone chargers won't save the planet

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The UN's International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has rubber stamped the spec for a new mobile phone charger that will work with any handset.

According to the GSMA, 51,000 tonnes of redundant chargers are manufactured - and thrown away - each year causing some 13.6 million tonnes of greenhouse gases to be emitted. The new universal chargers will come with a mini USB connector, suitable for any phone equipped with the new socket.

The GSMA argues that chargers are currently brand-specific, so people have to change them when they upgrade to a new phone and that the new chargers can be kept for longer - at least when they change manufactuers.

"This is a significant step in reducing the environmental impact of mobile charging," says Malcolm Johnson, of the ITU. "Universal chargers are a common-sense solution that I look forward to seeing in other areas."

There are a few drawbacks to the ITU's plan, however. All new phones designed for the new standard charger will still be shipped with one, so the total number of chargers produced won't be reduced and the scheme isn't mandatory, although some manufacturers such as Sony Ericsson have already signed up.

Indeed, the cynical might suggest that the whole scheme rather smacks of a desperate marketing scheme to shift more phones on the back of a load of eco-twaddle about saving polar bears. If you really want to help the planet, don't buy a new phone every three months and turn the damned thing off when you're not using it.