Are your cupboards full of old phone chargers? They seem to accumulate with every new mobile, and are rarely useful again. Hoping to change this wasteful scenario, the European Union have proposed – and ten leading manufacturers agreed to – a new standard that will see micro-USB charging devices used for all data-enabled mobile phones. The hope is that, within three to four years, mobiles and chargers will be sold separately in Europe, and they’ll all be compatible.

The chief object here, of course, is waste-reduction. With 400 million mobile phones in Europe and 185 million expected to be sold in 2010, there are an awful lot of redundant chargers out there. The EU believes unwanted phone accessories account for thousands of tons of waste in Europe annually.

But there’s also an added side benefit (apart from, presumably, it being much easier to find a compatible charger when your phone runs flat). The recommended standard socket is micro-USB, not to be confused with mini-USB that’s currently commonplace in phones, card-readers and cameras. For a start, the micro-USB is about half the thickness, so it supports thinner devices. More significantly, micro-USB is rated for 10,000 connect-disconnect cycles, compared to 5,000 for mini-USB.

There’s one other interesting thing to note here. The manufacturers include all the biggies – Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Motorola, LG, NEC and so on – that control about 90% of the European market. But, surprisingly, Apple has also agreed to incorporate the micro-USB port into the iPhone. It’ll be interesting to see how the company reconciles its dock connector with the new standard. And, ultimately, whether this European strategy has a knock-on effect for the rest of the world.