Apple Will No Longer Include Free EarPods with Any New iPhones After January 24

Environmental protection wins out over health concerns.
iPhone Box Credit: Martin Sanchez / Unsplash
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When Apple decided to remove the charger and EarPods from its iPhone packaging worldwide in late 2020, it found itself held back in France due to an unusual law that required cellular phones to include wired headphones for health reasons.

It was a rare exception to Apple’s iPhone packaging, which is normally universal across every country in which its products are sold. The situation in France required Apple to jump through some extra hoops, but instead of using entirely different packaging just for French iPhone 12 models, it ended up going with a “box-within-a-box” design, putting the normal iPhone 12 box inside a larger box that left room for a set of EarPods.

The additional packaging felt like a somewhat ironic reversal, considering Apple’s stated environmental objectives for removing these accessories in the first place. Despite the extra cardboard, though — which was almost certainly recycled anyway — it was likely more economical than producing an entirely separate box just for the French market.

Starting next week, however, it looks like Apple may be off the hook in France, as the law that required the inclusion of headphones has now been overturned, with politicians suggesting that it’s actually a major source of waste.

According to French site FRAndroid (Google Translate), the expanding market for better quality headphones means that most users never actually use the included earbuds. The result is that they contribute to even more e-waste, and officials have decided the health argument isn’t enough to justify this source of waste.

As noted in the subject of the amendment adopted by the National Assembly, wired headphones, systematically supplied with smartphones, constitute a major source of waste, even though the market for headphones and better listening systems quality, wired or wireless, is expanding. The health argument cannot justify this source of waste.Senator Patrick Chaize, France

The new bill removes the requirement for manufacturers to include headphones when selling mobile phones, but it does mandate that companies still have to ensure that compatible headphones are available for sale during the life of the product.

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The Health Concerns

France’s health law was intended to protect children from potentially harmful cellular phone radiation, but French senators say this is even more contentious, citing studies by the World Health Organization (WHO) that have refuted the existence of a link between mobile phones and “chronic pathologies.”

Even if such a link exists, however, the group maintains that there’s no evidence that giving away free headphones protects users from any health risks.

Technically speaking, the law never required Apple to continue bundling the EarPods with every iPhone sold in France, since it was only required to do so “at the request of the purchaser of a mobile phone.” However, the company clearly decided it was easier just to keep them in the box to avoid confusion and the possibility of having to ship them out to customers separately upon request.

The original law was also only aimed at protecting children, although it doesn’t appear to have qualified it based on the age of the buyer or intended user. Instead, it simply said that manufacturers and mobile carriers must provide an accessory “suitable for children under 14 years of age,” regardless of the age of the buyer or intended user of the device.

Removal of the EarPods

Apple doesn’t appear to be wasting any time taking advantage of this change in French legislation. According to French site iGeneration (Google Translate), carriers in that country have already received a memo stating that Apple will no longer be including the EarPods in new iPhone stock after January 24.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that carriers and retailers will necessarily go around pulling the EarPods out of the existing packaging, but going forward, it appears that all the iPhone boxes in France will look just like they do in every other country, and French users will no longer get a set of EarPods that they’re likely just going to toss in a desk drawer somewhere anyway.

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