Urbanears’ headphones use 97% recycled materials and include a Life Cycle Assessment
According to the brand, limiting the battery capacity to 90% generates about 50% more charge cycles over the product’s lifetime.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
September 02, 2022
When audio company Urbanears was founded, in 2009, the ambition — as for so many other brands — was to fill a gap in the market. “It is colourful headphones for everyone with a pocket full of music,” co-founder Niklas Bergh stated. Over the years, says product and design lead Emelie Runnquist, the brand has experienced both great success and failure and, just recently, gone through ”a complete refocus”.
— We did this to ensure that we don’t make tech for its own sake, follow short-lived trends, or end up stuck in standard manufacturing formulas, she explains.
The latest true wireless headphone, named Boo and launched together with Boo Tip which comes with another fit, is a great example of this revamp.
— We’ve focused on delivering quality where it counts; balanced yet versatile sound, long playtime, stable connection, improved mic quality, ergonomic fit, and — not least — exceptional design whilst still remaining an affordable option. We have also worked hard to improve our products from an environmental standpoint, using more sustainable materials and prolonging the lifetime of the product. This goes for both the product and the packaging.
Calculations show that recycled material only saves between 5 and 10% of emissions. Isthat still the way forward for you, or how will you work with sustainability and to lower the emissions?
— We have made an LCA (Life Cycle Assessment) of Boo to map out the environmental impact of each step of the product’s lifetime — from production to transport and end of life. And you’re right, plastic materials are only part of a bigger picture but it’s still important to address the issue of extracting more raw materials from our planet. What started out as an experiment for us, trying to create a better way to recycle plastic materials by using — amongst other things — discarded old air conditioners and water bottles, turned into a huge success. Now, we are one of the few brands that can create almost any colour in completely recycled plastics, reducing the CO2 footprint of the material by 90% compared to virgin plastics, says Runnquist.
Boo, she continues, is made from 97% post-consumer recycled plastic.
— However, using recycled materials is only one of the things we are doing to become more sustainable. This year, we’ve also eliminated all coatings and removed harmful substances from our materials and components, such as halogen-free PCBs. We have launched a new plastic-free packaging made from 80% recycled paper, that is optimized in weight and volume and solely uses paper bags when shipping from our website. We’ve also decided to not include a charging cable in the packaging box. We have identified that over 60% of our users already own a USB-C charging cable and that people want a long cable instead of the small cable that is normally included. Therefore, you can order one separately on our website, if you really need or want one. Implementing all these things has reduced the carbon footprint of Boo with 31% — from 1,97 kg CO2e to 1,37 kg. Yet, we know there is a lot more work to be done, which is both scary and inspiring at the same time.
— A fun side note is that when we got the final recycled raw material in our hands, we thought it looked really attractive. So, we decided to see what would happen if we created a product from the raw material, without adding any pigment. The result was RAW — a beautiful semi-transparent colour with lucid qualities, that does not look like anything else on the market!
Being an audio company, Urbanears obviously also involves technology in its sustainability work.
— A few years ago, it was hard to imagine that we would have headphones without cords attached. Looking forward we think about how, when, and where people will listen, rather than what features we should pack into the next generation of headphones. Technology is an enabler for sustainability as well. Our main goal is to increase the lifespan of our products, which means they need to not only last longer but also maintain a need for people to want to use them longer. In Boo, we’ve optimized charging cycles, which means that we limit the battery capacity to 90%, and this generates about 50% more charge cycles over the product lifetime. Batteries getting worse over time is what makes people stop using our Bluetooth products. This tells us that if we increase the total product lifetime, we can create a product that lasts longer, says Runnquist.