The question isn’t ‘should Apple remove the iPhone charger and headphones?’ It’s ‘why are they still including them?’

For several months now, it’s been rumoured that Apple won’t include wired headphones and a charging plug in the iPhone 12 packaging, due out October.

There’s been a lot of debate about this. Why is Apple doing this? Are they just trying to get you to spend more money getting them separately? Is it for environmental reasons? Is it to save them money?

The debate has primarily been around whether or not Apple should do this. I don’t see it that way at all. The question is more about why Apple hasn’t done this already. I want to talk about the reasons for this and how making this decision is not just essential to do but also crucial that Apple be the one to do it first.

Image of large collection of discarded cables
Collection of discarded cables

what an e-waste

So, firstly let’s look at what it is we’re dealing with here. Apple will undoubtedly position this as an environmental issue (if they acknowledge it at all of course!). The most significant effect it will have is on the amount of e-waste generated.

E-waste is the electronic goods we discard. This encompasses everything from old phones to irons and kettles to computers and TVs and, of course, plugs, chargers and headphones.

It is the fastest-growing type of waste in the world. In 2019 an estimated 54m tonnes was discarded. While the largest category was white goods like irons and kettles, a fast-growing amount was waste related to our smartphones.

In 2019 an estimated 54m tonnes of e-waste was created.

When the iPhone was introduced back in 2007, it kicked off the smartphone revolution but also kicked off an increased usage and purchase of charging cables, plugs and headphones. Whether it’s dirt cheap ones or high-quality versions, it’s a vast market. Take a look at the sheer variety on sale for bargain prices on Amazon.

Cheap products don’t last long, especially in these fast-moving times. Heck, even the Apple headphones and cables easily fall apart. These products end up being thrown away and rarely recycled, resulting in more landfill, more pollution from production and so on. You know the drill.

The fact is, with all these versions available to purchase separately and with many of us already owning several plugs, cables and headphones, does a new iPhone owner even need them in the box?

Render of possible iPhone 12 packaging from EverythingApplePro on YouTube
Render from EverythingApplePro on YouTube

saving that sweet, sweet money

The actual cost of producing these chargers and headphones is minimal, around £10/$10 each for headphones & charging brick. Removing the value of them would help this year with the additional cost of new 5G radios. In the end, that hopefully helps keep the overall price the same.

One thing I hope Apple considers is that some people do require headphones and a charger in the box. Currently, they cost £29/$29 each on their own. It would be great if Apple offered them just above cost for say, £12/$12 each with the purchase of an iPhone. Some have suggested they add them on for free, but I fear then people would get them anyway. Who doesn’t love free stuff, right? This is about encouraging people to buy less and so waste less. However, people who need them shouldn't have to pay the earth for them.

Apple is also doing a great job with recycling efforts for iPhones and other devices. Maybe they could start offering to recycle charging cables, headphones and the like? It all adds up.

Image of braided USB cable from @L0vetodream on Twitter
Image from @L0vetodream on Twitter

Speaking of which, it seems Apple are going to include a new braided USB cable in the box. These kinds of cables are great. I have a couple from Anker, and they are very durable. Apple making better quality cables is a clear desire to make them last.

Maybe Apple could start offering to recycle charging cables, headphones and the like?

Another critical thing to consider and another reason it is crucial Apple does this, is China and India. They are Apple’s fastest-growing regions for iPhone sales. They are also the largest and third-largest producers of e-waste in the world. There are so many millions of potential sales, and so there are so many possible times to increase e-waste!

two final reasons

The first reason is how directly the effect this would have on the environment through transportation. Suppose you think about how thin the iPhone 12 boxes could be. Compared to the current ones you could maybe even make it one-third of the height without the charging brick. Using super basic maths, one-third of the height means one-third of the space needed to transport them, which means one-third of the planes, trains and automobiles required to carry these to stores and consumers. Just on that basic calculation, the positive impact of the environment is enormous! Reason enough for doing.

The second is the knock-on effect on other companies. Apple frequently does something that not all agree with (removing the floppy drive, removing the home button, removing headphone jack, etc), for better or worse. After digs from competitors, they often follow suit. Someone has to take this step first. Once Apple does it, others won’t be so scared to do it.

Apple made a recent, very ambitious promise to become carbon neutral across its entire production line by 2030. Apart from a small caveat, that is a bold target and Apple should be lauded for it, should they achieve it. Unlike certain policies, Apple’s attitudes and ambitions to areas such as health, privacy and, in this case, the environment are evident. Apple is a huge contributer to e-waste through these headphones and charging brick so removing them from the iPhone 12 backs those ambitions up. Not only should Apple do it, they must do it. Like the best things Apple does, the rest will follow.