Reach into your backpack right now and take out the charging brick you use to top off your phone. Feel its weight and turn it over in your hand. What’s it made of? Plastic, mostly. There’s a lot of metal in there too. Where did all that ABS and aluminium come from? What kinds of chemicals are in there? And where does it all go when that battery pack squirts out its last electrons? Maybe you don’t spend much time thinking about the environmental impact of the electronics you buy. Sorry for the lecture (really) but you should. While there are plenty of companies in the apparel and lifestyle businesses who are pushing more eco-friendly manufacturing, distribution, and packaging methods (Allbirds, Klean Kanteen), there are only a handful in the world of personal electronics. Earlier this year, three Mophie higher-ups left the mobile-accessory maker to start a new company called Nimble. The products, packaging, and business model of this new start-up all demonstrate a greater sense of environmental responsibility than what we’ve seen from the larger consumer electronics industry.
Nimble makes charging accessories. As early as next year, the company will expand its product line to include more types of accessories. But for now, the founders say they’re starting with what they, as ex-Mophie folks, know best: charging. At launch, Nimble is selling two wireless charging pads, a charging stand, a travel wall charger, and four portable charging batteries. The battery line includes 10k, 13k, 20k, and 26k mAh models. The Nimble product line wears its environmentalism on its sleeve. The wireless pads feature a nice, soft-touch fabric made of hemp and recycled PET stretched over a rubbery bioplastic frame. The charging bricks utilise the same plant-based bioplastic material, which is infused with flakes of mica to give it a speckled appearance and to reduce the amount of bioplastic needed to fill the mould. The shell around the battery cells is recyclable aluminium. The cables are BPA- and PVC-free. But I’m not telling you about these portable chargers just because they’ll make you feel better about our planet’s terrible chemical pollution problem. Nimble’s stuff is actually very, very nice. In a move I’d love to see every other company in the industry make right away, all of Nimble’s charging bricks have USB Type-C Power Delivery ports that can handle 18W high-speed charging. Mobile computing is now fully USB-C-native, and it’s time for accessory makers to catch up, so bravo. For legacy devices, there are USB-A ports on all of the bricks with 15W of power for charging two things at once. The wireless charging pads have USB-A output ports on them too, so while your phone is resting on the charger, you can also connect a cable to the base and plug in a Kindle or Fitbit alongside it. All of the accessories have neat cable management systems that use magnets and bioplastic straps. Pricing is competitive. The wireless chargers cost between $40 and $60, and the portable charging packs run between $50 and $100. That’s around $10 more than what you’d pay for something from one of the budget brands, but less than what you’d pay for something from a bigger name.
Nimble is starting out as a direct-to-consumer business, selling on its website starting today, and on Amazon within a couple of weeks. The direct-to-consumer model means Nimble doesn’t have to create a retail box, so the company can do away with all of the plastic, ink, glue, and foam used in a typical shelf-ready packages. The accessories ship in a simple clamshell made of highly biodegradable cardboard. Now that’s all very feel-good, but we have to ask: What about the battery cells themselves? That’s the hard partthere are standard lithium-ion power cells inside the charging packs, and you can’t exactly turn those into compost. To mitigate some of the impact caused by putting more battery packs into the world, Nimble includes a plastic baggy with every purchase that you can use to recycle your electronics. Fill it with broken Fitbits, spent hard drives, or old USB-A chargers, then go to Nimble’s website and print out a free shipping label. Your used junk (up to a pound of it) goes off to Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, which runs a responsible recycling and repair centre. By buying more and more electronics, we’re burying ourselves under an ocean of trash. Every little bit helps.
Wired, 31 August 2018 ; http://www.wired.com/news