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Sleek, Sustainable Mobile Accessories Tackle World's E-Waste Problem

Business

These days, mobile phone chargers and cables can be picked up at just about any drug store or gas station. But these products can be cheaply made, come in unnecessary plastic packaging, and certainly add to world's toxic and growing electronic waste, or e-waste, problem

With that in mind, Nimble has launched a line of sustainably made mobile accessories that include wireless charging pads, stands and travel kits.


The devices have features such as plant-based bioplastic, 100 percent organic hemp, recycled PET from plastic bottles and recyclable aluminum, as well as USB cables that are BPA- and PVC-free.

Instead of using paint or toxic adhesives, they're speckled with natural mineral crystals to create a unique design. They also come packaged in 100 percent recycled scrap paper with no inks, adhesives or dyes, making them completely compostable.

The battery cells themselves are made of standard lithium-ion, which are non-biodegradable, of course. But to make up for that, the startup has a One-for-One Tech Recovery Project that aims to recycle one pound of e-waste for every product sold. Each gadget comes with a recyclable bag that you can stuff with any old and unwanted phones, tablets and other electronics you have lying around. You then print out a free-shipping label from the Nimble website and send it directly to their e-waste recycling partner, Homeboy Electronics Recycling in Los Angeles, for proper reclamation.

Nimble aims to be e-waste neutral by 2022 through recovery of an equal amount of e-waste as it adds in new items to their line.

The three founders, Ross Howe, Jon Bradley and Kevin Malinowski, are all ex-employees of the mobile accessory maker Mophie.

"We all came from the consumer electronics industry and we realized that that business model is really broken," Howe, the CEO of Nimble, said in a company video, adding that typical packaging for phone accessories are not only unrecyclable, it also adds $8-10 dollars to the item.

Wired noted that Nimble's pricing is competitive—more expensive than the budget stuff, but cheaper than big-name brands. Nimble's products won't be sold at traditional retail shops, which cuts prices even more.

Their least expensive option is the $40 wireless pad that can power all the latest iPhones at 7.5 watts and other smartphones at up to 10 watts. The portable chargers are available at 10K, 13K, 20K and 26K mAh capacities and range from $50 to $100.

The devices can be purchased directly on their website and on Amazon in the coming days. It ships straight from their facility in Orange County, California. At this time, Nimble only ships to addresses in the U.S.

"We believe people should know how their products are made, where they come from and what the impact is on the world," said Howe in a press release. "Simply put, we make great personal tech products, more thoughtfully."

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Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

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