Does fast charging mean phone makers don’t care about the environment?

Smartphone chargers are more powerful than ever and charging times are now so short that the battery on some phones will charge from 0% to 100% in less time than it takes to watch an episode of Rick and Morty. This is all done using a special charging unit and cable, which comes in the box with your phone.

This is of course unless you buy a Samsung or Apple phone. In this case, the charger isn’t in the case at all, a move the two companies say is good for the environment. Does this mean that companies that include chargers don’t care about the environment, or that you – as a buyer who wants to enjoy ultra-fast charging speeds – don’t care either?

Remove chargers

Samsung has a section on its website that explains why it removed the charging block and earbuds from the case for several devices, starting with the Galaxy S21 series. The latest Galaxy S22 series doesn’t come with a charging block or earbuds, as do the latest A-series phones, and there are rumors that Samsung’s cheapest M Series phones won’t.

A pile of boxes for Apple, Samsung, Oppo and Realme phones.
Size difference between Oppo, Realme, Samsung and Apple phone boxes. Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Her reasoning is clear: “Samsung believes that removing earbuds and charger plugs from the device’s in-box packaging can help address the growing problem of e-waste and unnecessary copying of these items.”

Apple removed the charger and earbuds from their packaging starting with the iPhone 12 in 2020, and has talked about the benefits of making the packaging smaller. During the iPhone 12 launch event, it claimed that 70% more products can be placed on a charging pallet, which along with removing accessories will reduce carbon emissions by 2 million metric tons per year. It also does not include a charging block with Apple Watch.

The motivation behind removing items from the box and reducing the size of the packaging revolves around the environmental benefits, but it also saves companies money. The decision helped Apple not increase the cost of the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Mini over the iPhone 11, despite the addition of new technology including 5G, according to Counterpoint Research.

save chargers

If taking the charger out of the box is better for the environment and a convenient cost-saving measure, why not all phone makers go for it? Outside of Apple and Samsung, many companies use proprietary fast charging systems as points of sale to differentiate the latest devices from the competition. After all, neither Apple nor Samsung comes close to matching the charging speeds offered by Oppo, Realme, and Xiaomi.

Realme's SuperDart charging block next to the Realme phone.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

But is the benefit of a faster-charging battery worth the environmental trade-off? Realme believes that it is an issue that needs to be looked at in a different way.

“We believe that sustainability should not be defined by scrapping, but by providing new solutions with technology innovations, where we can ultimately address the problem without sacrificing customer benefits,” the company told Digital Trends in an email.

Realme announced 150W UltraDart Charge technology during Mobile World Congress 2022. It can charge a battery up to 50% capacity in just five minutes, and it will be launched on Realme GT Neo 3 in the near future. For it to work, you will need to use the included charging block and cable.

Madhev Sheth, Head of Realme’s International Business Group, explained how the company is approaching sustainability in other areas.

“Although we are a 3-year-old start-up, we are steadily moving towards becoming an environmentally friendly and sustainable technology player, aiming to make a positive impact on the environment by lowering carbon emissions and making sustainability more affordable for customers. We have been exploring different ways to pursue cleaner and more processes sustainability,” he told Digital Trends in an email.

“Realme strives to reduce the carbon emissions of its GT series smartphones by 50% in five years by reducing carbon emissions for their entire life cycle through a process that goes from material selection to design, manufacturing, packaging and use, and finally to recycling. GT 2 Pro is the first A smartphone that uses biopolymer for the entire back panel, reducing carbon emissions from its manufacture by 35.5%. Compared to purely petroleum-based materials, this biopolymer results in two kilograms less carbon emissions per kilogram manufactured. The percentage of plastic used in phone packaging has also been reduced from 21.7% to just 0.3%.”

Key Benefits

Oppo, which is in the same family as Realme, supplies fast chargers to its smartphones. Find X5 Pro’s battery can be charged up to 50% in 12 minutes, and fully charged in 30 minutes using the included SuperVOOC charger. In an email in response to the same questions posed to Realme, the company said:

Oppo’s proprietary fast charging technology is a core feature of Find X5 Pro. This incredibly convenient fast charging only works with a compatible charger, so Oppo strives to add value for customers by including the fast charger in the box. By optimizing hardware and software, Oppo has increased the Find X5 Pro’s battery life to 1,600 cycles. This is twice the industry average, keeping the device battery healthy for longer, thus reducing e-waste in other ways.”

Oppo's SuperVOOC charging block plugged into a ribbon outlet.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Xiaomi has a 120W HyperCharge fast charging system, which like the others here, also requires a proprietary block and cable. It’s amazingly fast and will charge a 5,000mAh battery to full in about 15 minutes. In response to our questions, Xiaomi answered in an email:

“Xiaomi has included and not included chargers inside the box, and this is evaluated on a case-by-case basis. For example, with our recent global devices with 120W HyperCharge, we consider that most end users will not actually have chargers of this standard, therefore They include it. We have also taken steps towards sustainability, such as continuously reducing plastic in smartphone packaging since 2020.”

Fast chargers and you

Much has already been written about whether unpacking the charger is as environmentally beneficial as companies want you to be, but the general consensus is that yes, everything helps. However, experts also say there are other ways – some more important than others – these companies can make a difference, and this is how Realme, Oppo and Xiaomi seem to justify the continued inclusion of the charger.

The screen of the Oppo Find X5 Pro shows that SuperVOOC fast charging is active.
Andy Boxall / Digital Trends

Then there is a consideration that if you want to make the most of the faster charging speeds, you need a proprietary charger regardless. Samsung charges $50 for the 45W charger needed for top speeds when powering the Galaxy S22 Ultra, and Apple’s 67W charging block is $59. If you buy one of these just to get the fastest speeds a phone charging system offers, is anything really saved?

If you’re buying a new phone with a special fast charger, and you’re worried about the effect it will have over time, aim to keep the device for longer than you normally would, and think carefully about how you can recycle your old device and associated peripherals.

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